Film Review: The Armstrong Lie @ PIAF
The Armstrong Lie, Directed by Alex Gibney
Lance Armstrong’s deception is one of the world’s great contradictions. As Gibney points out in this documentary, which is largely about his own struggle with the uncovering of America’s greatest sporting idol as his own wooden effigy, we were all willing to be deceived, attracted to the heroic arc of a man fighting back from cancer to conquer all. Even the arrogant French, and no one ever conquered the French!
Um, anyway, as is plainly obvious from Gibney’s The Armstrong Lie is that while Armstrong can no longer be depicted as the hero he was, he also can’t allow all the facts or realities to be placed in the control of his detractors. Due to Armstrong’s lack of sincerity when Gibney interviews him, an audience desiring full disclosure from Armstrong will never obtain a total image of his cheating program, its financial construction or whether Armstrong continued to use performance enhancing drugs when he returned from retirement to the Tour de France in 2009 and 2010.
Gibney first attempted to make this film on Lance Armstrong’s triumphant return in 2009, before the doping revelations turned him from Superman to Lex Luthor in the space of one USADA charge. He returned to the project to chart the history of Armstrong’s doping, using the footage from 2009 to represent the dichotomy between the warm reception Armstrong received during his comeback and the pariah status with which he’s now treated by media, fans and the UCI. Featuring rare, in depth interviews with Armstrong from after his Oprah appearance and his sports doctor x doping advisor Michele Ferrari, The Armstrong Lie is a glorified ESPN 30 by 30 that is important for the close access it provides to controversial figures.
It is hamstrung probably though by Gibney’s proximity to Armstrong. He seems to subscribe to the belief that only the man himself can reveal the whole truth; we are just always waiting for it to come out of his own mouth. In reality, however, most of Armstrong’s comments since his charges have merely confirmed allegations made by other people.
Too submissively dealt with also, is Armstrong’s argument that he still won the Tour De France because everyone was on drugs. This argument has been refuted, and largely proven suspect, by Daniel Coyle who co-wrote The Secret Race with Lance’s ex teammate Tyler Hamilton, and is interviewed for this film. Coyle argues in The Secret Race that Lance, with the help of Ferrari, was not just existing within a culture of doping, but that he abused that system itself, using his financial power and the funding of a US government body (the Postal Service) to buy assured victory. In essence, Lance doped so systematically that he fixed the sport of cycling fro seven years.
On the other hand, despite serious arguments such as these being largely ignored (and strong arguments are what give investigative documentaries their worth), the access Gibney has and the beauty of many of his shots (including shots from within the Peloton in 2009) make this film worth seeing for anyone who is unfamiliar with the controversies involved. For cycling fans and other people with stakes in the cycling world, The Armstrong Lie will probably seem too glib and a rehash of all the things we already know about one of the world’s greatest con; a systematic fix that essentially made cycling Pro-Wrestling for almost a decade. However, the casual viewer will probably find it an interesting and well-made look at the psychological make-up that made Lance Armstrong both an iconoclast and a staunch defender of his tainted legacy.
Prepare to laugh incredulously at Armstrong’s ridiculous, stone-faced denials and excuses. As three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond once reportedly told Armstrong’s mother after asking for advice regarding his attitude: “I’m afraid he’s just a dick”.
The Armstrong Lie starts tonight: Tuesday March 11 at Joondalup Pines as part of PIAF! It runs until the 16th.