- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Oscars are over, but we can still hear the accompanying adjectives echoing in our ears. “Good Night, and Good Luck” was a “courageous” film. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were “brave” to climb “Brokeback Mountain.”

With all due respect to Oscar’s new golden boy, George Clooney, weaving a nostalgic ode to one journalist’s battle against Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy, Wisconsin Republican, isn’t brave. It’s practically groveling for Oscar recognition.

Had Mr. Clooney cast a withering glance on the era’s anti-anti-communists and the totalitarian system for which they sometimes apologized, that would have been gutsy.

For a better example of cinematic bravery, try this: turning down offers from major studios to make your first film because you didn’t want to change its morally provocative third act one iota. On top of that, imagine that same film is a politically incorrect romp with a message about personal responsibility in an age of fast food lawsuits.

Writer and director Jason Reitman deserves, but likely won’t get, the bravery stamp for making such a film.

“Thank You for Smoking,” based on Christopher Buckley’s 1994 novel, follows a charismatic tobacco lobbyist named Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) trying to engineer a return to Hollywood’s unfiltered Golden Age when glamorous stars smoked on-screen.

The film doesn’t vilify Nick, nor can audiences expect a weepy mea culpa for his line of work.

Mr. Reitman, son of famed comedy director Ivan Reitman, agrees with Nick’s point of view, even if he himself goes an entire interview without lighting up.

“I believe in personal responsibility,” Mr. Reitman says during a publicity stop in the District. “And because of that I don’t think the film has to apologize for itself.”

The film opens today, but a series of sneak peaks at various universities may have uncovered a stealth demographic for a film that otherwise might be tough to market.

College students love the film, Mr. Reitman reports.

“They’re just frustrated with the amount of political correctness out there,” he says. “There’s a reason they get their news from [“The Daily Show’s”] Jon Stewart. He’s the only one who talks to them honestly. They’re surrounded by books and educators who are extremely liberal, and there’s political correctness, which is another way of saying ‘lying.’”

Moviegoers might gasp when Nick tells a Senate committee he won’t tell his son not to smoke when he reaches 18.

Mr. Reitman doesn’t flinch from the moment.

“Nick’s as honest as any character you’d see on screen,” he says.

Mr. Buckley isn’t surprised undergrads get Mr. Reitman’s film.

“They’re fed up with PC, and they’re happy to be fed some protein,” he says. “They’ve been raised with bicycle helmets and low-fat cereals. Here’s a guy who’s making hash of all that and doing it in a winning way.”

“Smoking,” he predicts, could be the start of something different — less earnest Hollywood fare.

“If it became a real hit, Hollywood follows other Hollywood successes,” Mr. Buckley says.

That’s more “refreshing,” perhaps, than “brave,” but as second choices go it’s not a bad adjective.

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