Wednesday, November 27, 2013

'Armstrong Lie' is a fascinating tale

Photo: Sony Pictures Classic

Talk about your change in plans. In 2008, Alex Gibney had attempted to film a documentary about Lance Armstrong. This documentary wouldn’t be about Armstrong’s former victories. No, Gibney wanted to film Armstrong as he worked his way back into competitive cycling. Up until this point, Armstrong was legendary as being the man who had battled cancer and then went on to win the Tour de France race seven times in a row. He had retired in 2005 only to get back on the bike three years later.

Gibney, the filmmaker behind the 2008 Oscar®-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side and the 2006 Oscar®-nominated Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room wanted to shadow Armstrong in hopes of capturing the ultimate comeback story. Just as Gibney was wrapping up the project, news broke that Armstrong had admitted to using performance enhancing drugs. That’s when Gibney’s movie took a sharp U-turn. The film that was meant to praise its subject would then become a vehicle to do just the opposite. And Gibney had a lot more interviews to record. This film became The Armstrong Lie.

“I didn’t live a lot of lies. But I lived one big one. You know, it’s different I guess. Maybe it’s not.” Said Lance Armstrong in front of the camera on January 14, 2013, still not sounding completely convinced that he did anything wrong. For years people had accused Armstrong of doping and he always fought back with a vengeance denying any wrong doing. He became a symbol of one of the few sports legends who didn’t get where they were because of drugs. Overnight, he became just like everyone else.

Armstrong’s rise to fame and ultimate fall from grace is truly a fascinating story. Armstrong was a man who instead of coming clean, decided it was better to continue to lie and went to great lengths to cover up his bad behavior. The film includes footage of his time being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey earlier this year. Armstrong had hoped that by coming clean, fans would rally beside him once again. It didn’t work. With his mouth Armstrong would say that he was sorry, but his body language said something entirely different. It was clear that the bicyclist was still convinced that if “everybody” was doping up, then it was okay. Apparently his mother never asked her son, “If everyone was jumping off the bridge, would you do it too?” Probably the most frustrating thing about Armstrong is his lack of responsibility for his own actions and that he didn't honor his own sport more than he did. He teammates refer to him as a bully. He dug the ultimate hole that he may never be able to dig himself out of.

The first two-thirds of The Armstrong Lie are riveting, but the story starts to drag during the last third where the documentary resembles more of Gibney’s initial intent. The footage is mostly Gibney following Armstrong around on his last race but since we already know how the story ends, it seems pointless to watch. Instead, it would have been great to hear some interviews from his ex-wife, his children and the other people who knew him best.


“It was just such a good story. Who wouldn’t want to believe in that story,” says Gibney. “But it just didn’t happen to be true.”


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