Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney finds himself tangled in Lance Armstrong’s web of deceit in this definitive account of the cycling icon’s astonishing fall from grace. THE ARMSTRONG LIE is not just a sports documentary: it’s a portrait of a man embittered by power, celebrity and a burning will to succeed.
The story is so incredible that it transcends the sporting world. An up-and-coming young cyclist is struck down by cancer and given a 50% chance of survival, only to come back to win the Tour de France – the most gruelling of physical feats – an astounding seven times. More than an underdog story, this was a tale of mythic, Herculean proportions that made Armstrong a sporting champion and an inspirational global figure. But, of course, it was only half the picture.
Only inadvertently did Alex Gibney – who appears to be monopolising the field of topical documentaries, following last year’s absorbing WE STEAL SECRETS: THE STORY OF WIKILEAKS and MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD – stumble upon the ugly truth. After winning his final Tour de France in 2005, the Texan came out of retirement in 2009, planning to compete in the tournament again in an attempt to confound his critics once and for all. Camera in hand, Gibney documented his comeback. However, the film that he set out to make drastically changed complexion following the revelations of Armstrong’s serial doping.
Opening with Armstrong’s infamous confessional interview with Oprah Winfrey, Gibney then retrospectively tracks his history with performance-enhancing drugs, and in doing so shines a light on a sport beset with corruption. Using archive footage of races and interviews alongside his own recordings of his 2009 comeback, Gibney pieces together the facts, drawing on post-Oprah interviews with former teammates and a frank conversation with the man himself.
At times sympathetic, and at others completely lacking humility, Armstrong is always a charismatic and commanding figure in this compelling film. At the heart of the intrigue is his quest to justify his own dishonesty, which stems from an innate will to survive and conquer at any cost. THE ARMSTRONG LIE is mandatory viewing for fans of documentary cinema.