Published Feb 11, 2014Of all the tangled webs woven in the name of mendacity, there are few as labyrinthine and complex as the one perpetrated by American cyclist Lance Armstrong and dissected in Alex Gibney's engrossing documentary The Armstrong Lie. Given all of the evidence and footage presented in the film, Armstrong's recent admissions to doping are only shocking because of how long he was able to feed everyone the false story they so desperately wanted to believe.
Gibney started out making a film about Armstrong's comeback to the sport in 2009 and, after shelving the film for a while, completed it with a much different angle in light of Armstrong's revelations. This leads to early glimpses of a more flattering portrait of a hero attempting to take another stab at glory, in which Gibney appears to even be rooting for Armstrong to succeed, if only because it would make for a better ending.
In an interview with Armstrong recorded mere hours after he appeared on Oprah's show, that idealized image of Armstrong is shredded to bits. Interspersed with clips of Armstrong preparing for and competing in the 2009 Tour de France is the story of his upbringing without a father, his battle with testicular cancer, his domination of the sport for years and how he then used the "cancer survivor" narrative and deep pockets to quell the regular allegations that surfaced.
Among the many layers of the lie depicted are blood transfusions done in plain view during Armstrong's victories, an unethically close relationship with the head of cycling's governing body and the unavoidable truth that Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation still did a lot to help fight cancer.
The supplemental material, particularly a commentary track by Gibney and a Q&A held for the film's premiere at TIFF, provides further details into how the film was reshaped over time. Gibney divulges how his complicated relationship with Armstrong also evolved and that the two have not spoken since Gibney told Armstrong that the film was going to be titled The Armstrong Lie. A heap of deleted scenes points to the type of film this might have been if the story hadn't taken such a drastic turn.