I went to see the film this past week. For those who know me this will seem a shock as I don't go to see films very often, let alone Hollyweird releases and this was the second within a few days. The trailer for the film intrigued me and the reviews I read were, in general, very good.
The film is a piece of dark comedy, but not too dark. We follow Nick Naylor, lobbyist for the tobacco industry, around during several days of his life. As the film opens, Nick is on the Joan London show. He is the only representative of the tobacco companies. He shares a stage with 5 other people including a representative of a U.S. Senator, a doctor, a member of an anti-smoking lobby, and a 15 year old kid (former smoker) dying from cancer. Naylor knows he's in trouble and the first thing he does is attempt to buy the audience by announcing that the tobacco companies will donate $50 million to a campaign urging kids not to smoke. The kid loves it. The audience learns to love it. Naylor shows that he can win a crowd with words and bribes.
During this scene, I noticed no one in the audience laughed. I suspect that during a second viewing people might chuckle a bit more. This was a set up scene. It was designed to appeal to our cynical feelings regarding lobbyists. It demonstrates Naylor being slimy yet reasonable. The scene afterwards, when he's chewed out by his boss because it was supposed to be $5 million (agreed to earlier) feeds those nasty feelings about lobbyists.
In the next bit, we meet Nick's 2 friends: a lobbyist from the alcohol industry and another from the gun industry. They call themselves the M.O.D. squad. "M.O.D." stands for "merchants of death". It's from this group that some of the best and darkest humor stems. These scenes are wonderful and practically make the entire film on their own. See Nick and friends argue over the prize of who has the hardest job because their products kill more than the others. Classic.
There's another side to this movie and it's crucial because it makes the more debased plot twists work. That's the relationship that Nick has with his family. Nick is separated from his wife. She lives in their home with their son and her boyfriend, a doctor. Nick has reached a point that he wants to be more involved in his son's life (it's never explained what brought him to this point). The boy, who begins being ashamed of his father, learns to appreciate him and emulate him. He wants to spend more time with Dad, too. Mom recognizes this and allows it, albeit begrudgingly, to happen. The relationship between Nick and his son is just like all ideal father/son relationships. Throughout the movie, Nick tries to pass along his philosophy on life. He expounds on communication, debates, what's right and wrong, and more. There's a real love in both their eyes during these scenes. They set Nick's character up so that the audience can see how he views himself and his job. Nick doesn't feel he's a slime ball lobbyist. Rather, he's a guy using his best talents in a way that pays the mortgage and provides him with the ultimate challenges in life.
If it sounds like I enjoyed the movie, that's because I did enjoy the movie. It's not the best dark comedy in the world - not by a long shot - but it sure beats most of what's out there that calls itself comedy. It doesn't rely on slapstick nor does it spend a lot of time on sophomoric jokes. In other words, it's a smart movie that relies on good dialog and smart observations on the world in which we live. On a scale of ten, I'd give it an 8.5.