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Thank You for Smoking (DVD)

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Katie Holmes & William H Macy (always a good sign on the cast list).

Rated: 15

Story: Nick Naylor is the king of spin. He is the spokesperson for the US tobacco industry and it's his responsibility to make cigarette companies look well-meaning and responsible rather than greedy and evil. He's surprisingly good at it. As his son begins to question what it is exactly that his father does, however, Nick is forced to examine and explain his own 'moral flexibility'.

That doesn't turn out how you might expect...

Comments: Cigarettes are bad for you. It's undeniable. Cigarette companies are making money peddling an addictive substance which kills people. Why would anyone want to be their spokesperson?

Naylor does it because it pays the mortgage and because he's good at it.

And he is good at it. He never makes the mistake of claiming smoking is healthy. He draws attention to the positive economic aspects of the industry, attacks his opponents' arguments from unexpected angles and presents a reasonable, likeable face for the tobacco business. His aim is never to convince his opponents that smoking is good but to leave those listening to the debate with a positive impression.

It's just scary. I start gagging if someone lights up in the next street. If I ever tried smoking myself, I'd probably cough up a lung instantly. And yet, Naylor makes the whole thing seem not so bad...

This isn't a film about smoking. It's a film about spin. If something so dubious can be presented in such a good light, what else are we being talked into? I guess it's not just that, spin isn't about positive persuasion, it's removal of the negative; spin is damage control. Even sound decisions often have some negative consequences - spin erodes our ability to make tough choices. Spin can be as dangerous as smoking. Think of Thank You for Smoking as the best public health warning ever.

Amazingly, the film manages to present Naylor as sympathetic. Yes, he's self-serving but you'll want him to succeed even as you hope his cause will fail. Whether this detracts from the message, however, or just makes it scarier, I'm not sure.

Thank You for Smoking never comes across as worthy. It requires some thought but it's fast and funny, too.

Worth watching.

Conclusion: Great for sharpening your debating skills. Not so good if you're in the mood for mindless action.

Explosions: None.
Smoking: None.
Guns: A couple.
Alcohol: Some.
Fast talking: Lots.
Merchants of death: Three.
Assaults with a deadly nicotine patch: One.
Induced cravings: Cigarettes and cheese.

Rating: 4/5.

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