Film Reviews

Addiction Incorporated at O Cinema March 31 and April 1

With a name that not even the PR team at Smokefree America could dream up, Victor DeNoble emerges as the hero of Charles Evans Jr.'s mostly muscular documentary on the 1990s campaign to expose Big Tobacco. DeNoble, a psychologist, was hired by Philip Morris in 1980 to study the effects of nicotine; four years later, he and his colleague Paul Mele were fired for their findings — and, thus, unwanted evidence — that the substance was highly addictive. The first third of Addiction Incorporated is the weakest: Evans tricks out the material — DeNoble and others sitting in front of ochre backdrops recounting these experiments (done on rats) and their implications — with dopey animation and even sillier re-creations. But when the chronicle shifts to 1994, the year that FDA commissioner David Kessler charged his agency with investigating the tobacco industry, the director skillfully braids the reminiscences of journalists, lawyers, and elected officials who fought the corporations (and some who shilled for them) with C-SPAN footage of the congressional hearings from April of that year. One of those testifying at the House Subcommittee on Health and Environment was DeNoble, whose suppressed research from a decade earlier proved crucial in starting the battle against a seemingly indestructible opponent. His direct, candid responses then match the respectful, no-nonsense anti-smoking lectures he delivers to school kids across the country now.

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Melissa Anderson