Insider's guide to cigarettes
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Feb. 3, 2012
It's easy to assume that Victor DeNoble, the tobacco-industry whistleblower at the center of the solid and watchable documentary "Addiction Incorporated," has to be the same guy who inspired the similarly themed, fact-based drama "The Insider." The story lines are almost identical: A cigarette company insider discovers the product his employer makes is dangerously addictive, and his attempts to let the world know about this are met with cover-ups and corporate pressure on the media to suppress the story.
They're not, of course, the same person. "The Insider" was the story of Jeffrey Wigand of Brown and Williamson. And DeNoble worked for Philip Morris.
But what's more, DeNoble is nothing like Russell Crowe's tortured character in the 1999 film. He's likable, funny and - most important - a natural storyteller. That's great, because he acts, in essence, as tour guide through a tale that's tangled by heavy reliance on scientific data, jargon and legal maneuvering.
DeNoble, an experimental psychologist tasked in the early 1980s with determining whether cigarettes could be made safer without losing smokability, comes across like the college lecturer whose class everyone wants to take, larding his recitation of facts and figures with black humor: "Dead people don't buy cigarettes," he notes, in a succinct assessment of Philip Morris executives' thinking in regard to the dilemma posed by a product that hooks - and then kills - its best customers. Director Charles Evans Jr. helps by inserting whimsical cartoon animations of smokers with the faces (and tails) of lab rats to illustrate the serious science behind addiction. Rather than relying only on archival footage and a parade of talking heads, Evans mixes it up with reenactments of episodes in the past.
It's subtly unobtrusive and effective.
That said, there's a bit of a been-there-done-that air to "Addiction Incorporated." That's partly due to the high profile of "The Insider," but it's also, ironically, thanks in large part to DeNoble's own efforts to educate people. Since leaving Philip Morris - from which he was fired in 1984 - DeNoble has fashioned a second career, giving talks to 300,000 school-age children a year about the dangers of smoking. Who doesn't know, at this point, that cigarettes are bad for you and that it's really, really hard to quit?
The ultimate irony, the film suggests, is that DeNoble's classroom crusade is funded by money the tobacco companies had to cough up in their eventual settlement with the government, over accusations of institutionalized lying. Along with Victor DeNoble's almost too-good-to-be-true name, there's a kind of poetic justice in that.
Contains material related to smoking, addiction and some crude language.