(And not in the good way)
Snoop Dogg, the enigma of Southern rap, put on one of the most affecting, outlandish performances on film this year— the dramatic musical biopic “Thank You for Smoking,” which, like the life of the legendary artist, is laced with contradictions. The hip-hop artist, who famously saluted during the 2016 Presidential campaign in an advertisement directed at Donald Trump, also demonstrates at his finest that he can play as well as talk in “Thank You for Smoking.”
In his film debut, Snoop plays Joe One, a greedy Southern congressman who aims to cut government and indoctrinate his people in abstinence, with raunchy jokes hiding behind lines like “You’re looking at a fish carcass in water” and “First and foremost, you have to show your pride.” And while Joe seems to have lost his mind, Snoop really just seems bored. There is a cumulative pace to the delivery, and a dazed, monotonous quality to the performance—a marked contrast to the emotional energy that permeates every scene of “Thank You for Smoking.”
In some ways, Snoop is the epitome of his character: a man obsessed with materialistic and violently immoral success, in a violent, segregated town that doesn’t look much different from his own. Here’s the thing: in Snoop’s world, Joe the Voter is the one who becomes weak, who is corrupted and paraded before the world. Snoop’s portrayal is painfully anti-Hollywood—particularly when it comes to the subplot of Joe’s homosexual affair. Even the makeup of the character skews too deeply into the Mickey Mouse world of Willy Wonka. The film as a whole paints a bland portrait of America, and less on the country’s potential than its demographic: the heartland. In his final scene, Snoop boldly dispenses with the character he plays in favor of the less-known story about his life in Dorchester, Massachusetts. It is a chilling image—a dog-masked Snoop attacking a prison roof with guns.
Dogs have a way of making us aware of the ridiculous—and the dog-to-dog anger that follows. So too, in hindsight, should many of the lines that come from Snoop’s mouth. These are the most audacious lines we can read into a film that doesn’t ask us to do that. “Thank You for Smoking” does not have the sophistication or the sophistication of 2008’s “There Will Be Blood,” but the film is unafraid of saying the unsayable. In “Thank You for Smoking,” the gun snuck through unnoticed. In “There Will Be Blood,” the snowflake. In “Thank You for Smoking,” the gun with dog shmup.
But things are not so simple. And the camera reveals what most others do not want to—that Snoop the Perverse Dogg is also making sense of the world.
An excerpt of “Thank You for Smoking” appears in this year’s New York Times Sunday Style Magazine.