Digital Spy

Search Digital Spy
0

Movies Review

The Armstrong Lie review: Lance Armstrong explored in searing documentary

By
Director: Alex Gibney; Screenwriter Alex Gibney; Starring: Lance Armstrong, Reed Albergotti, Betsy Andreu, Michelle Ferrari; Running time: 124 mins; Certificate: 15

The issue of self-insertion is a tricky one for documentary filmmakers. It's tempting for any director to cast themselves as more than a narrator or a tour guide, but participate too much and you end up distracting from the story you're actually telling, as Michael Moore has demonstrated amply and often.

Alex Gibney, arguably the best non-fiction filmmaker working today, knows when to pull back and when to lean in - he was scarcely a presence at all in last year's compelling We Steal Secrets, but here his involvement is crucial, and his relationship with his subject ultimately more illuminating than any of the talking head segments that surround it.

Gibney was given unprecedented access to Lance Armstrong in 2008, for a documentary that originally took shape as a kind of comeback chronicle-cum-puff piece. Armstrong was about to make his return to cycling after three years in retirement, and Gibney - a self-confessed fan - was to chart his remarkable rise from the ashes.

Fast forward five years, and the doc had taken on a very different tone. After years of denial upon denial, Armstrong confessed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he had used performance-enhancing drugs prior to his retirement in 2005. He had lied through his teeth to the press, to his fans and to Gibney, repeatedly and consistently. As fodder for an inspirational comeback tale, Gibney's footage was now worthless, but it became the backbone to a much sadder, more compulsive story about deception.

The Armstrong Lie

The Armstrong Lie


Kicking off behind the scenes of that historic Oprah interview, Gibney then circles back around to the 1990s, tracing out Armstrong's stratospheric early career, his cancer diagnosis and his near-miraculous recovery. "I can't stand losing because to me, that equals death," the present-day Armstrong explains of his work ethic, and watching him in 1998, clawing his way back from survival odds of less than 50%, it's clear how the two became interwoven.

Interviews with his colleagues, including well-known adversary Frankie Andreu, paint Armstrong as a bully and a manipulator, a ringleader who would turn on fellow cyclists the moment they were convicted of doping and go to extraordinary lengths to cover his tracks. When Armstrong denies, over and over and over again, that he was doping throughout this post-comeback period (during which he won the Tour de France for an unprecedented seven consecutive years) it's not always clear that he fully knows he's lying. The story was always too good to be true, the stuff of instant myth - recovering from a death sentence to break a world record - and watching Armstrong address the camera, jaw tight and gaze unwavering, there's a hollowness to his remorse.

For all the documentary's elegance and even-handedness, Gibney directs with an edge of real anger. "You owe me an explanation," he tells Armstrong, and this is where his presence works so well - his disembodied voice is a stand-in for thousands of fans, aspiring athletes and (as is painfully reiterated) cancer survivors who bought into "the beautiful lie".

A marginally baggy mid-section aside, The Armstrong Lie is a lean, searing and detailed portrait of human frailty that requires no prior interest in either Armstrong or his sport.

You May Like

Comments

Loading...