The story is right there in the title of Alex Gibney’s furious new documentary: “The Armstrong Lie.”
Gibney, as probing a documentarian as is working today, is obviously not the only person who’s angry at Lance Armstrong. The seven-time Tour de France victor disappointed millions of fans by routinely lying about his use of performance-enhancing drugs, even as he was performing character assassination on anyone who suggested that he was juicing.
Prior to those revelations this year, however, Gibney admired Armstrong as a champion athlete who defied the odds – both as a competitor and as a cancer survivor – in his quest to be the best in the world. Gibney signed on to film Armstrong’s comeback attempt in 2009, in which he supposedly was going to prove that he had won his previous championships cleanly, despite a blizzard of accusations saying otherwise.
But that 2009 attempt was a bridge too far, as it were, with Armstrong performing poorly as the altitudes and grades of the course began to take their toll. That year proved the turning point, the moment when Armstrong went too far – in terms of his ability to hide or otherwise mask his drug use.
Gibney sat on that footage for three years, then went back after Armstrong at the beginning of this year – after he had tried to come clean in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. Gibney convinced Armstrong to sit down with him as well, and got him to tell at least part of the story of his checkered history.
Gibney then uses the 2009 footage as the anchor for the film, cutting back and forth between the recent revelations and the history of Armstrong’s career. But he keeps coming back to the centerpiece of the film: that history of rule-breaking, which Armstrong rationalized as the only way to maintain a competitive edge, because his competition was doing the same thing.
This review continues on my website.