Published on February 18, 2014 | by Ben Grazebrook0
Film review: The Armstrong Lie
★★★★In 2009, Alex Gibney set out to make a film documenting Lance Armstrong’s remarkable decision to once again compete in the world’s most gruelling bike race, the Tour De France. After collecting hours of footage and interviews, the sporting world – along with Gibney’s film – were turned upside down when Armstrong revealed the truth behind his seven Tour De France victories in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Armed with his footage, Gibney chose to turn the tables and make The Armstrong Lie, a film that exposes both a man and a sport that are, for the most part, shrouded in mystery.
The film is focused around two interviews, one prior to the comeback in 2009, where an arrogant and bullish Armstrong is chomping at the bit to once again prove his critics and doubters wrong. The second interview, filmed in 2013, shows a subdued and regretful Armstrong.
Gibney tries to confront Armstrong’s relationship with the word ‘cheat’. In one sentence Armstrong will admit he cheated, only to contradict in the next that he didn’t. What becomes clear is just how furious Armstrong is at how he has been treated. Armstrong feels that because of his success in the sport he has been made a scapegoat and that he has been harshly penalised by the sport’s governing bodies.
What does become apparent is just how infatuated Gibney is with Armstrong. Gibney tries so hard to shed light on the enigma that is Lance Armstrong and yet the result is Armstrong just reels Gibney in even further.
Gibney wants more than anything to understand what drives this intensely competitive man. It almost seems an obsession.
What makes the film hard to process is that it’s impossible to trust anything Armstrong says. When we see clips of him in 2009 blatantly lying to the camera about doping, it undermines the 2013 footage when he feigns contrition.
The film acts best as an expose, not on Lance Armstrong, but instead on the sport as a whole.
As a result the film acts best as an expose, not on Lance Armstrong, but instead on the sport as a whole. The director lays out the intricacies of professional cycling and the culture of gamesmanship, which occurs across all cycling tours.
Gibney explains the roles of ‘domestique’ riders, the necessity of pace setters for the big name riders, as well as the tactics employed by teams.
Gibney must be congratulated for his interviewing techniques – he doesn’t let his emotions or feelings get in the way of the questions or indeed the answers and the film is shot well; the racing scenes in particular are visually stunning.
The Armstrong Lie leaves the viewer feeling a multitude of emotions. There is a feeling of anger and frustration towards Armstrong due to his infuriatingly defiant sense of self-innocence. It is this same defiance that makes the film so strangely engaging. Gibney set out to unmask the mystery man, and – while he does not do this – the film is still immensely watchable and uncovers a lot of hidden truths about this sport.
Recently speaking at the Hugh Cudlipp lecture at LCC, journalist David Walsh took the audience through his 13-year pursuit of Armstrong, and his transition from avid fan to relentless investigator. The lecture makes a great contrast between the attitudes of Gibney’s film and Walsh’s investigation.
Footage of the evening is available here.