NYT Critics’ Pick: Addiction Incorporated

December 13, 2011 : By Jeannette Catsoulis

Straight-shooting, hard-hitting and fuming with contempt for the tobacco industry, “Addiction Incorporated” would be almost too exhausting to watch were it not for the folksy charm of its star witness. Nestled at the center of this relentless documentary, guiding us through a deluge of scientific evidence and corporate bobbing and weaving, is the scientist and whistle-blower Victor J. DeNoble, who reveals himself to be a born raconteur. His easygoing, self-deprecating narration is the film’s most valuable asset and the viewer’s best friend.

Hired by Philip Morris in 1980 to test nicotine alternatives for a more heart-healthy cigarette, Dr. DeNoble, armed with his Ph.D. in experimental psychology, quickly discovered just how addictive the chemical could be. When his test rats couldn’t get through their day without an ever-increasing number of nicotine hits — topping out at an astonishing 90 puff equivalents a day — Dr. DeNoble and his employers were equally shocked, though their reactions to the findings were very different.

Essentially the story of how cigarettes became subject to federal regulation, “Addiction Incorporated” lays out a meticulous, methodical timeline of moral and legal conflict. Wrangling an unwieldy mob of scientists, politicians, journalists and legal experts, the director, Charles Evans Jr., wisely trusts Dr. DeNoble to connect dots and provide clarity. Cheeky animation of anthropomorphized rats — and the dash and swagger of a team of Louisiana lawyers — burn through the factual fog, while familiar video clips remind us of the saga’s heroes and villains.

Yet this heartening tale of good science stomping bad business would be drier than a week-old butt without Dr. DeNoble. I wonder if he has a doppelgänger in the financial services industry?

“Addiction Incorporated” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). Smoking rats and sweating politicians.


Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan.

Produced and directed by Charles Evans Jr.; directors of photography, Peter Nelson and Igor Martinovic; edited by Kristen Huntley and Jay Keuper; music by Samite Mulondo; released by Variance Films. At Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, South Village. Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes.