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Thank You for Smoking (2005) - Plot Summary Poster

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  • The chief spokesperson and lobbyist Nick Naylor is the Vice President of the Academy of Tobacco Studies. He is talented in speaking and spins arguments to defend the cigarette industry in the most difficult situations. His best friends are Polly Bailey that works in the Moderation Council in alcohol business, and Bobby Jay Bliss of the gun business own advisory group SAFETY. They frequently meet each other in a bar and they self-title the M.O.D. Squad, a.k.a. Merchants of Death, disputing which industry has killed more people. Nick's greatest enemy is Vermont's Senator Ortolan Finistirre, who defends in the Senate the use of a skull and crossbones on cigarette packs. Nick's son Joey Naylor lives with his mother, and has the chance to know his father in a business trip. When the ambitious reporter Heather Holloway betrays Nick disclosing confidences he had in bed with her, his life turns upside-down. But Nick is good in what he does for the mortgage.

  • As a Vice President of the Academy of Tobacco Studies, a Washington tobacco lobby masquerading as research organization debunking the health risks of tobacco use, Nick Naylor, a born communicator, is the public face of the tobacco lobby. As the Academy is funded by big tobacco, Nick is able to use the "research" to spin the messages for tobacco and against anyone who is anti-tobacco. Calling themselves the M.O.D. (Merchants of Death) Squad, he often meets unofficially with his fellow lobbyists Polly Bailey and Bobby Jay Bliss, who represent alcohol and firearms respectively, to discuss mutual strategies. As the biggest problem Nick and the tobacco lobby faces is declining smoking rates among youth, Nick comes up with a campaign to re-glamorize smoking in movies, which has the stumbling blocks of the highly public smoking-related health issues faced by former Marlboro man, Lorne Lutch, and Vermont Senator Ortolan Finistirre who is pushing for mandatory poison labeling of tobacco products. Nick hopes he can use his communication skills and charm to spin what looks to be an expose by Washington Probe reporter Heather Holloway in his favor. Through all these machinations, Nick is trying to re-establish a relationship with his preteen son, Joey Naylor, who lives with his mother and new stepfather. Joey wants to understand what his father truly does for a living, while Nick wants to set a good example for Joey while still staying true to his own beliefs of what he does for a living.

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  • Tobacco industry lobbyist Nick Naylor has a seemingly impossible task: promoting cigarette smoking in a time when the health hazards of the activity have become too plain to ignore. Nick, however, revels in his job, using argument and twisted logic to place, as often as not, his clients in the positions of either altruistic do-gooders or victims. Nick's son Joey needs to understand and respect his dad's philosophy, and Nick works hard to respond to that need without compromising his lack of values. When a beautiful news reporter betrays Nick's sexually-achieved trust, his world seems in danger of collapsing. But there's always one more coffin nail in Nick's pack.

  • Satirical comedy follows the machinations of Big Tobacco's chief spokesman, Nick Naylor, who spins on behalf of cigarettes while trying to remain a role model for his twelve-year-old son.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • The film opens with Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) appearing on Joan Lunden's daytime talk show, along a doctor, a senator's aide, and a teenage boy with cancer. As he's introduced, the audience spits at him. The screen freezes, spittle in midair, while Naylor explains what he does for a living in a voice over. He works for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, and he represents Big Tobacco. The Academy is supposed to research links between disease and smoking, and has never been able to find anything conclusive.

    On the show and throughout the film, he takes the offensive position (in both senses). On Joan Lunden's show, he protests that in no way would he want a potential customer to die, and accuses the doctor of profiting off cancer patients.

    His immediate nemesis is Senator Ortolan Finisterre (William H. Macy), a Birkenstock-wearing Vermonter whose office is decorated with cheese and bottles of maple syrup. Senator Finisterre wants to plaster a graphic skull-and-crossbones picture on every pack of cigarettes.

    Through all of this, Naylor is also trying to maintain a relationship with his son Joey (Cameron Bright). Naylor's boss BR (J.K. Simmons) wants ideas on how to make smoking sell. "We don't sell Tic Tacs, we sell cigarettes. And they're cool, available, and addictive. The job is almost done for us." Naylor has the idea of product placement in movies.

    He takes Joey on the trip to Los Angeles to meet with an agent about putting more smoking in movies. Naylor is divorced, and shares custody of his son. His son is rather uncomfortable with his father's profession, but Naylor is as great arguing with his son as he is with the press and starts to win him over. Naylor portrays himself as being on the side of freedom and personal choice.

    On a side trip, Naylor takes a briefcase full of cash to the original Marlboro Man Lorne Lutch (Sam Elliott) who is dying of cancer. There's no strings attached; Lutch can just keep the money. A suspicious Lutch asks why he can't just go to the press. Naylor suggests he do exactly that, and recommends which reporter to talk to. Lutch can go on TV, denounce the tobacco industry, and donate the money to a worthy cause. Donate? Well, if he denounces them he can't keep any of the blood money. Naylor leaves, confident that Lutch will keep quiet.

    Back in DC, he debates Senator Finisterre on Dennis Miller's show. A caller threatens Naylor with death for being responsible for millions of deaths. Naylor brushes the threat off, but he's kidnapped. The kidnapper (Jeff Witzke) covers Naylor in nicotine patches and leaves him naked in the lap of the Lincoln Memorial. Ironically, his smoking gave him a resistance to the nicotine, otherwise he would have died.

    Naylor is interviewed by a reporter for a Washington paper, but ends up seducing her. He's confident of some positive press, but is shocked when she gives away all of his secrets. She was having sex with him to get the story. She tells about the hush money to Lutch, the movie deal, and his weekly meeting with the MOD Squad: the Merchants of Death, gun and liquor lobbyists (there's a funny bit where he one-ups them on how many people his industry kills).

    The Academy distances itself from Naylor, who is shattered for a while. Some supportive words from his son inspire him to fight back. He reveals that the reporter was having sex with him to ruin her career, and agrees to appear in front of Senator Finisterre's committee. He comes out swinging again, accusing Vermont's cheese of clogging arteries and causing heart disease. When asked if he would let his own son smoke, he points out that his son is under 18 and that would be illegal. Pressed for what he would do on his son's 18th birthday, he says that if his son wants a cigarette, he'll buy him one.

    Outside the hearing, BR offers him his job back but Naylor turns him down. Good timing: shortly thereafter, the tobacco industry settles for billions and the Academy is shut down. Joey wins the school's debating contest, and Naylor finds new clients: "Look into the mirror and repeat: 'There is no conclusive scientific evidence linking cell phone usage and brain cancer.'"

    Apart from the plot, the film is filled with absurd little cutaways. Naylor has a weird fantasy where's he's starring in a hotel safety video. The gun lobbyist has some trouble with the Senate metal detector. Naylor imagines other industries that can use help, like seal clubbers.

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