Published Nov 27, 2013From his early days as an amateur athlete to his years as a cycling superstar and world-renowned cancer survivor, Lance Armstrong has live quite a remarkable life. But one thing is for certain: no matter how much money he raised, or what athletic feats he accomplished alone or assisted, he'll always be remembered as the world's greatest cheat.
Directed by critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, The Armstrong Lie charts the rise and fall of one of the sports world's biggest heroes. In doing so, Gibney attempts to answer the question that's been plaguing viewers since witnessing Armstrong's not-so-candid confessional on Oprah Winfrey's show back in early 2013: why?
To the average person, Armstrong seemingly had it all. A professional triathlete by the age of 16, he quickly cruised his way through the ranks of competitive cycling until cancer knocked him out of commission in 1996. Faced with a 40 percent chance of survival, Armstrong defied the odds, not only beating cancer, but what was deemed humanly possible on a bicycle, capturing seven consecutive Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005, before announcing his retirement that same year.
For many, it was too good to be true, which is why in 2009, at the age of 38, questions about Armstrong's alleged doping were raised more fervently than ever before when he announced his official return to the sport. Attempting to win his eighth tour, Gibney was commissioned to document his supposed swan song during every step of the race.
After an anti-climactic third place finish, the documentary was shelved. But following Armstrong's federal investigation and televised confession only a few years later, Gibney decided to return to the project, reworking its original narrative frame from the world's greatest athlete to its real life personification of greed.
Beginning in medias res a mere three hours after the initial Oprah taping, Gibney finds a visibly shaken Armstrong racing to answer questions about why he deceived millions of people. "I didn't live a lot of lies," he admits. "But I did live one big one."
Culled from candid conceits during their 20-minute conversation and a series of interviews set around his initial comeback, The Armstrong Lie perfectly unravels the tangled web of conspiracies surrounding the one-time Livestrong spokesman, separating fact from fiction in an engrossing two-hour display of Armstrong's power-hungry will. Hot on the heels of this year's Sundance selection We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, the Smartest Guys in the Room director is the perfect candidate for tackling this topographical tale of corruption, providing a perfectly rendered timeline of Armstrong's numerous misdeeds over his two-decade long career.
Narrated by Gibney himself and featuring interviews from some of Armstrong's most well-known colleagues, competitors and detractors, The Armstrong Lie delves deep, giving a balanced perspective on the nature of competition and modern day doping. For Armstrong's fellow teammates George Hincapie and Frankie Andreu (whose wife, Betsy, features prominently in the flick, having been one of Armstrong and Team Astana's first whistleblowers), he and his teammates didn't so much play within the system as become the system themselves, using the greatest advancements in modern medicine (and a lot of money) to succeed in what is undoubtedly one of the most hypocritical and corrupt professional competitions that still exists today. Gibney is well-aware of this, presenting the material exposed in the film with an even hand (albeit a slightly disappointed one — Gibney was one of the few people who got to experience Armstrong's lying face-to-face).
For a film about competitive cycling, Gibney perfectly captures the excitement and enthusiasm of racing in a Parisian peloton, employing a ten-camera crew to capture all the angles of Armstrong's 2009 return. The result is a truly engrossing spectacle, one that is all the more enhanced by Gibney's subtle use of visual motifs, such as fields of daffodils in the Swiss alps, or brightly coloured yellow street chalk that evokes Armstrong's maillot jaune sporting signifier.
While not necessarily treading a lot of new territory, Gibney takes the countless books and investigative articles on the subject matter and condenses them into one easily digestible package, never shying away from the truth of the situation, but not necessarily forcing the reasoning behind its character as well.
(Sony Pictures Classic)