Lance Armstrong has been about as public an athlete as we've seen the last few decades. His life story was compelling, dominating his rivals as he won seven Tour de France titles, but only after beating cancer and a deathly prognosis. He was Captain America. He was a Texas cowboy destroying puny European mortals at their own cherished game. He dated a rock-star hottie. He popularized cycling in America. He raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research and provided hope for the sick and dying everywhere. He overcame a death sentence and France's Mont Ventoux. And he did it all because he wanted it more than anyone else. Armstrong was the American dream writ large.
It was, of course, all a lie. Armstrong cheated his way to the top, and he twisted his friends and teammates into complicity to ensure that his secret never got out. He was a bully who lied on TV, lied under oath, lied to his fans — lied, probably, to himself. For years there were rumors, innuendo, accusations, and tests. Armstrong kept his head above water throughout it all, with determination to stick to his story and damn his enemies. At all this, too, he was elite.
Alex Gibney tackles the cyclist in his newest film, The Armstrong Lie. But, he began his project in the good ole days, when Armstrong was staging a comeback at the Tour de France, a few years before his great downfall. Gibney enjoys the opportunity to have documented the man's lies when people still believed him and to ask the follow-up questions when the truth came out.
It doesn't break any new ground and draws its drama from long-over events, so The Armstrong Lie is worthwhile mostly for contextualizing a story that played out via headlines. Interviews with Armstrong's former teammates and other ex-friends are riveting. Armstrong, however, isn't nearly as interesting a character in his own drama. The reason is obvious, in retrospect: You can't believe a word he says, even when he's talking about the lies he told. Gibney can't plumb those depths, possibly because Armstrong himself isn't ready to confront who he is. Like with Pete Rose, the truth of Lance Armstrong may never be told, or heard, if it ever is. ■
Opens Friday, December 6th
Studio on the Square