The Armstrong Lie Review

Posted 10 years ago by myetvmedia

The Armstrong Lie is a fascinating study of the enigmatic character of Lance Armstrong. Academy award winning director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) succeeds in giving us a unique insight into what makes Lance Armstrong tick. A fearless competitor whose story has inspired millions is contrasted with a cold manipulator whose ferocious lies have ruined the lives of former friends and teammates. His journey in making this documentary is an interesting one since he began when Lance Armstrong was an international hero of the sport of cycling and over the course of the shooting he plummeted from grace to become a different kind of poster boy for the use of steroids in sport.


Back in 2009, Gibney began shooting a documentary on Lance Armstrong’s return to professional cycling following a 4-year retirement. Gibney and his team were given intimate access to Armstrong throughout the season and travelled with him during the 2009 Tour De France. The film was going to be an exploration of the cycling world and another example of Lance’s legendary perseverance. 

The course of the next few years spun Gibney’s film on its head. Starting in 2010, former teammates and friends began coming forward about Armstrong’s steroid use. Frankie Andreu, Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie and Floyd Landis all testified that Armstrong had indeed taken steroids over the course his cycling career. In late 2012 Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour De France titles by professional cycling governing body UCI. Armstrong’s fall culminated in a January 2013 interview with Oprah in which Armstrong finally admitted to the world that he had cheated and did use performance enhancing drugs.


Gibney’s story now had a whole new focus, centered on a lie. The intimate interviews and footage Gibney had obtained in 2009 suddenly had all new meaning. Armstrong’s lies and manipulations are present in all his day-to-day interactions. Watching Armstrong during the 2009 Tour de France and seeing the hyper competitive, ‘win at all cost’ mindset that Armstrong carries with him, you can begin to understand how he could have defended his lie so vigorously for so long. The same relentless determination that he showed throughout his early career, his battle with cancer, and his 7 consecutive Tour de France titles, was fueling his efforts to keep his drug use secret.

It is a huge credit to Gibney that he was able to create a film of The Armstrong Lie’s caliber out of the ashes of his original film. In order to help with the fluidity of the storytelling Gibney makes the decision to inject himself into the storyline and even handles the narration duties. This also highlights the filmmaker as yet another victim of Lance’s lies.


The Armstrong Lie also features a slew of interviews with Armstrong’s former teammates and others close to the story. The most interesting character in the film is Michele Ferrari (the controversial Italian physician and coach who worked with Armstrong throughout his career). Ferrari is refreshingly open and gives his own unique take on performance enhancing drugs. Through Ferrari, Gibney does an excellent job of explaining the science behind cheating in cycling in simple terms. This helps make it easier to form personal opinions on steroid use in cycling and ultimately on Lance himself.

From a technical point of view the film is beautiful. The slow-motion Phantom camera shots of the Tour de France from high atop the French Alps are absolutely breathtaking. Gibney also used early prototypes of the now ubiquitous GoPro camera hitched to Armstrong’s teammates’ bikes to bring the viewer into the race. The gorgeous cinematography contrasts with the dark elements of Armstrong’s demise. It is a kind of beautiful destruction of Armstrong’s legacy.


The film is capped off with Armstrong musing about what his legacy will be. In 50 years will people care that he lied, cheated, and deceived the world? Or will they remember the champion who always beat the odds and inspired millions across the world. Lance Armstrong doesn’t know the answer to this question and The Armstrong Lie doesn’t provide it. Instead the film helps get past Armstrong’s carefully constructed barriers and provides an inside out look of one of the most compelling figures in the history of sport.

Alex Gibney premiered this remarkable doc at the 70th Venice International Film Festival and then brought it to Toronto for a North American premiere at TIFF13.

Marshall Jeske

Check out the press conference here.

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