Review: The Armstrong Lie
In 2009, documentarian Alex Gibney set out to make a film telling the story of Lance Armstrong, an equally championed and maligned cyclist, as he made a return to the Tour de France seeking victory. Placing him on a pedestal as so many had done before, Gibney was hoping for a great comeback story when the news broke that Armstrong was doping all along. Gibney shifts the story, and instead of becomes about the lies Armstrong has told over and over, and the people he has crushed in his wake.
Armstrong is of course featured in many interviews, including an exclusive for Gibney. Armstrong’s past competitors and those that Armstrong has lied to feature prominently and significantly.
You may feel as if you are suffering from Lance Armstrong fatigue, as the famed and rather notorious braggart of an influential American cyclist has made headlines for some time now in regards to steroids. Fear not, for there is a something to cure such Armstrong exhaustion – and it’s perfectly legal.
The Armstrong Lie¸ documentary that finished just before the TIFF and premiered at the festival, follows the seven-time Tour de France winner (or not, the titles have been stripped) and features a new interview with Armstrong, and a very keen eye on his checkered past and the casualties of his rise.
Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney was filming a documentary about Armstrong’s Tour comeback in 2009, hoping for an uplifting story – as he filmed though, accusations started to grow, and it became a very different (and honestly, far more interesting) piece of storytelling.
It is fascinating and expansive look at hubris and perversion that is perhaps so subjective that it tells a complete, unbiased story. That is to say, Gibney falls into the same category as so many others: in love with the magic of Armstrong’s story, then angered, confused, and heartbroken at the revelation of cheating.
That Gibney carries with him this side of subjectivity, that he like so many others wants the heroic story, is refreshing and key. He admits that he was duped, and that he so wanted to believe the purest, most inspiring of storylines. So his conflict is the same as the viewer.
There are montages here that would do The Daily Show proud, though the film doesn’t want to revel in Armstrong’s hypocrisy. In fact, it still wants to hope that Armstrong is reformed, and it prevails in its obvious crisis of heart. Armstrong cheated, like many others, but he couldn’t just keep quiet – and he still can’t.
It’s a fascinating transformation, or lack thereof, to watch unfold, and the contrasts and comparisons of new and old Armstrong are presented in stark relief. The cyclist gets the last word in the film –of course – but it’s Gibney who tells the tale that may be the closing chapter on a captivating athlete, competitor, and liar.
Should You See It?
There may be stuff that is familiar, but the added content, including Gibney’s position as both fan and documentarian, make this a superb film.