“The Armstrong Lie”: Alex Gibney Switches Gears to Tell True Story

…(T)he 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. John Anderson, Newsday, on The Armstrong Lie

When did you first start to really believe that Lance Armstrong was lying about doping? For me, it was when I happened to read a convincing article by a former friend and assistant of the cyclist—pre-Oprah “confession” but pretty late in the scheme of things. For film director Alex Gibney, it was when he was shooting a movie about cancer survivor Armstrong making his comeback in the 2009 Tour de France—and then was forced to switch gears (so to speak) when he discovered the truth.

Instead of moving ahead with the more flattering documentary that would’ve been called The Road Back, Gibney went on to create The Armstrong Lie. Tagline: On October 22, 2012 Lance Armstrong was stripped of the 7 Tour de France titles he won from 1999-2005.

Gibney introduces The Armstrong Lie via the trailer below:

Armstrong was “a charismatic master of deception.” Steven Rea, Philly.com“He had lied, straight-faced, defiant, for so long he seemed convinced he was speaking the truth.”

The Narrative

Stephen Holden, The New York Times, describes The Armstrong Lie‘s structure:

The first half of the film looks back on Mr. Armstrong’s youth, when he was a ferociously competitive, self-described bully. His stated belief that ‘losing equals death’ was probably reinforced by his near-miraculous recovery from testicular cancer through treatment that included brain surgery in late 1996. The following year, he founded what became the Livestrong Foundation for cancer research and the support of cancer survivors. The film barely addresses the accomplishments of Livestrong, from whose board Mr. Armstrong resigned in November 2012.

The second half focuses on Mr. Armstrong’s return to competition without the benefits of the blood booster EPO, testosterone, human growth hormone or blood transfusions. Or so he maintains. In that competition, he placed third. The film goes into clinical detail about how such drugs and procedures enhance performance.

Some Questions Raised 

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “…Why was the public so willing to overlook his deceit? Was it because he was a cancer survivor, and a handsome charismatic one? Or do we ultimately endorse—or at least understand — the drive to win at all costs? What does this say about our collective national character?”

How Much of Armstrong Revealed Is Real?

Chuck Wilson, Village Voice: “…(W)hat’s missing in Armstrong’s present-day demeanor is the one thing that often keeps people with more modest sins tossing and turning at night: regret.”

Jada Yuan, Vulture.com:

And you begin to try to judge where the deception begins — and where is the deception and where is the honesty. How does that work? And to see where the real person breaks through and the artificial Kabuki actor is taking central stage. And a lot of that I think is very present here, because Lance — he played different people. Every once in a while you see the real Lance, and it’s not always a pretty picture to see the real Lance.

Steven Rea, Philly.com:

Even though Gibney gets more of a ‘full’ confession out of the man than Winfrey did, there is clearly something in Armstrong’s psyche that prevents him from just laying it all out there, coming clean. Armstrong talks about the ‘true narrative’ as though there are still extenuating circumstances, hidden facts, that justify the years of systematic doping and deceit.

An American hero, a celebrity, a legend, brought down by his own hubris. And still in denial about it.

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