Film Review – The Armstrong Lie

The Armstrong Lie

The Armstrong Lie

Lance Armstrong is a big fat lying liar. No debate there. But he’s a liar in a sport where everybody cheats and everybody lies about it, so who really cares? Quite a lot of people, actually. For some reason, bicycle racing fans have been able to maintain hope in the purity of their sport even after endless doping scandals and revelations of cheating. Armstrong was such an inspirational figurecoming back from testicular cancer to win seven Tour de France racespeople held on to the belief that he was clean long after repeated accusations were made. I don’t know if the general population really gives a damn about this. Banned substances used in a niche sport? Oh no. But it turns out the doping done by Lance Armstrong is the least interesting part of this story. The real meat is that, not only did he lie about cheating, he repeatedly went after his accusers, destroying their credibility in the press and even suing them for damages. He didn’t just defend himself, he went on the offensive to demolish anyone who strayed from the narrative he wanted to present.

Alex Gibney’s new documentary, The Armstrong Lie, presents Armstrong’s rise and fall and gives its protagonist plenty of opportunity to both defend and hang himself. The film was originally supposed to be about Armstrong’s comeback in 2009, where he would prove to everyone that he could win the Tour de France clean. (Without ever actually admitting he had ever doped. He came in third.) After the racewhen the doping allegations started to flyGibney shelved his film for a while. Even though he’d gotten what he thought was complete access to Armstrong, he wasn’t quite sure what story he would tell. He’d accepted Armstrong’s lies as truth, and it appears he needed to reconcile himself to the facts as they came out. (He’d bought in so completely, everyone around him just assumed his film would be a non-critical puff piece.)

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As much as I do not care about doping in professional sportsmostly because I do not care about professional sportsI found this story to be fascinating, because Armstrong is such a bad person. A lot is said in the movie about his need to dominate his opponents. It wasn’t enough to be first; he had to be first by a large margin. And it wasn’t enough to defend his good name; he had destroy the characters of everyone who spoke against him. But that was not what the public saw. Without the cheating, lying, and bullying, he had a great story. After recovering from cancer, his body mass was smaller, so they focused on expanding his lung and heart-pumping capacity. He may, in fact, be close to being the most perfect human machine. But that was never good enough. If everybody is doping, you have to dope to win. I get it. It makes logical sense if you have no moral issues with it. And he didn’t, and I still don’t think he does. Several times in the film, he says that the comeback exposure was the cause of his downfall. Um, no. That would be the lying and the vicious attacks.

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Although this is a pretty good film, it’s got a few problems. Coming in at a few minutes over two hours, it is too long and drags a bit in the final third. Gibney spends a long time on the 2009 race, much more than it deserves. At one time this was the focus of the film, so I assume he’s got a lot of footage. But a detailed analysis of the 2009 race doesn’t really belong here. It feels like Gibney is still working through his own feelings about Armstrong and can’t quite let go of the previous incarnation of the film. Armstrong maintains that he did not dope during the 2009 race, and there are things that both corroborate and contradict that story. But it feels like he is lying. Because he is a cheating liar who lies all the time with no feelings of remorse about anything except for getting caught. It just seems like he is trying to control the narrative once again. Maybe he didn’t dope. It doesn’t matter, because he is a bad person who cannot be trusted. And that is a problem when watching this film, and it is something Gibney can’t do anything about. Armstrong is so morally bankrupt there is no way the viewer can take anything he says as truth; it’s hard to relate to someone so unsympathetic.

I believe that people can learn from their mistakes and become better because of them, but I will never be able to believe that Armstrong has changed. There are a lot of revelatory interviews in this film, but it’s hard to take him at his word. Still, there is a lot of great information presented, and anyone who is interested will get their money’s worth.

Final Grade: B+




Adelaide enjoys watching all kinds of movies, but is never going to see Titanic unless there is a sizable amount of money involved.

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