Blowing the whistle on Big Tobacco
This dilatory documentary, Addiction Incorporated, chronicles the battle against Big Tobacco, an industry that just a couple of decades ago was considered invincible.
The film's Galahad is Victor DeNoble, who was recruited from academia by Philip Morris for drug research. His mandate was to use lab rats to find a nicotine replacement that was just as addictive, but less damaging to the human heart.
DeNoble made some real breakthroughs, for example, identifying a chemical in tobacco, acetaldehyde, that amplified nicotine's addictive power considerably.
Then, lawsuits against the tobacco companies started cropping up in the '80s and it was realized that DeNoble's work made the case that cigarettes are nothing more than a drug-delivery system.
With no warning, Philip Morris' bright light was told (in his own words), "Go downstairs and kill your rats. Turn in your keys. You're fired."
DeNoble would go on to testify before Congress, where he was acclaimed as one of the first "whistle-blowers," and later as an expert in the first large-scale class action suit brought against the cigarette manufacturers.
You have to admire the craft of this film, its extraordinary assemblage of stock and newsreel footage, hearings, and even illustrations. And the roster of talking heads it corralled for interviews is quite impressive: lawyers, scientists, reporters, government officials, even tobacco executives.
But while its thoroughness is laudable, its pacing is deadly. And the events and attitudes depicted already have become curiously passe in less than a decade. Not that the scourge of tobacco has been eradicated, but this chapter seems curiously remote, like watching footage of passengers on an airplane lighting up and blowing plumes of smoke in the cabin.