There's a lot of world-class cycling, and first-class recycling, in director Alex Gibney's "The Armstrong Lie," which as it spins out its tale of doping and deception becomes less and less about Lance Armstrong himself and more about how people are seduced by story. From the time Armstrong began winning the Tour de France in 1999, substance-abuse allegations had circulated. But the story was too good: Armstrong was a cancer survivor, a charity founder, a Texan beating Europeans at their own game (a game most Americans couldn't otherwise be bothered with). You couldn't not believe in Lance Armstrong. It was un-American.
Gibney, who has made movies about Enron ("The Smartest Guys in the Room") and U.S.-approved torturers ("Taxi to the Dark Side") -- world-class liars, in other words -- is a bit chagrined himself about being sucked in by Armstrong: He spent 21 days following the cyclist on his comeback Tour of 2009, and had almost finished that film when the revelations and admissions arose (along with a grand jury investigation). So he went back to Armstrong and interviewed the not-quite-conscience-stricken sportsman. What we now get are two Armstrongs, in glorious, shameless contradiction.
Gibney also gives us a roster of folks who were abused and defamed by Armstrong in the perpetuation of his myth, and there's not a lot of good feeling to be had -- except as regards the truth, and certainly the filmmaking. Like "Hoop Dreams," which was originally supposed to be a 30-minute TV movie, or "Capturing the Friedmans," which was originally about a party clown, Gibney took a film that was supposed to be about the resurrection of a sports star and turned it into an epic indictment of one man and an entire culture. The lesson is obvious: Never throw anything out.
PLOT Documentary in which Lance Armstrong comes clean, so to speak, about the years of falsehoods on which his myth was based.
RATING R (language)
BOTTOM LINE Fast-paced and fascinating.