The Armstrong Lie (2014)

The Armstrong LieBack in 2005, seven-time Tour de France winner and testicular cancer survivor Lance Armstrong was a hero among men. Even then Armstrong was dogged by rumours of doping, but as he prepared for his comeback tour in 2009 the cycling community was very much still on his side. His claims of innocence didn’t last, however, and after struggling through the ’09 circuit and only coming third he finally came clean in 2013 with a tell-all appearance on Oprah. Already half-way through his movie, documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney was forced to back-pedal in light of the recent revelations.

The finished film, titled The Armstrong Lie, bears all the hallmarks of a story bent out of shape by rewrites. Opening with the Oprah Winfrey interview, Gibney’s film spends its first few minutes assuring audiences that all the work done prior to Armstrong’s admission is still valid (when he should really be outlining cycling and doping for laymen like me). He insists that the comeback itself is important in order to fully understand Armstrong’s motivations, and the film does indeed paint a pretty compelling story of addiction — to performance enhancing drugs, perhaps, but also to winning, and, as the film’s title suggests, to lying too.

Armstrong is an interesting case study, and you can’t help but try to crack the enigma yourself. His achievements, whether he was cheating or indeed simply leveling out the playing field, are impressive, and it’s easy to see how the cyclist became so iconic. As an unreliable narrator, however, you eventually lose patience with the lies, and the earlier interviews where he is still in denial mode are tedious and a little embarrassing. It is just one lie — though admittedly a pretty big one — and once he has finally admitted to doping any further discussion takes on the sense of splitting hairs. It doesn’t help that the specifics of doping are never adequately explained, as the film assumes an unfeasible level of familiarity. Unable to appreciate the levels of lying, the endless admissions of guilt become more than a little repetitive.

Although interesting, Armstrong isn’t particularly likeable, and it’s difficult to share Gibney’s faith in the cyclist’s character. He’s done some despicable things; it’s not simply that he lied, he went to truly shocking lengths to protect those lies: fighting truth-tellers with expensive legal action and ruining the lives of former friends. The film flirts with an exchange in a doctor’s office, where Armstrong is alleged to have doped up in front of a fellow racer and his wife — Frankie and Betsy Andreu — both of whom were called to give evidence at a number of trials and subsequently discredited by Armstrong’s team. You can’t help but sympathise with them, and wish that the film would tell a little more of their story, too.

The main problem with The Armstrong Lie, however, is that it doesn’t really accomplish anything; it’s never clear what Gibney is hoping to achieve with his film, before or after his subject was revealed to have deceived him. Armstrong has already confessed, and though the film had unparalleled access in the past it only boasts one, disappointingly uneventful post-Oprah interview. We know the Armstrong lie, what we needed to hear was the truth.



About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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