Lance Armstrong is a natural subject for Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney, who has made a career out of crafting intelligent, accessible depictions of corruption.
“The Armstrong Lie” finds the filmmaker grappling with the fundamental question that defines the disgraced cyclist, who inspired millions with his return from cancer to racing dominance, and disgusted just as many when he copped to doping after years of aggressive denials.
That question is a simple one: Who is this guy? The answer is not. By way of an exploration, Gibney combines elements from two films: his 2009 feature documenting Armstrong’s Tour de France comeback and an examination of the subsequent events, including the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s banning of the athlete in 2012, which is centered around two interviews Gibney conducted with Armstrong in 2013.
The movie has plenty of racing and training footage and the most comprehensive illustration of Armstrong’s doping ring that we’ve yet heard.
There are several movies you could have made with the same subject, and perhaps the most affecting would have conducted a deeper look at the ramifications of this deception, stepping outside Armstrong’s bubble to tap into the strong sense of betrayal felt by his countless believers.
But that’s not what Gibney intends to do here. The filmmaker has said the documentary explores “the anatomy of a lie,” and it offers a stark reminder of just why Armstrong’s denials seemed so convincing: This is a dynamic speaker who sells untruths with fervor.
And “The Armstrong Lie” works best in its simplest form: when Armstrong directly addresses the camera, both in 2009, when his myth persisted, and in 2013, as he struggles with the ramifications of his fall from grace. These are the moments, both in what Armstrong says and what he withholds, in which the film gets closest to genuine revelations during its journey into the depths of this impenetrable man’s being.
"The Armstrong Lie"
Documentary by Alex Gibney
Playing at AMC Empire, Landmark Sunshine