When director Alex Gibney embarked on this Lance Armstrong documentary in 2009 it was meant to be a comeback story. After four years away, and seemingly done with the doping scandal that plagued him for years, the racer was planning to not just complete but win the most brutal road race in the world, the 2200 mile Tour de France.
History reminds us that the race wasn’t the comeback he hoped for, marred by a third place finish and new allegations of performance enhancing drugs. Gibney stopped production for several years, returning to the film—with Armstrong’s cooperation—pieced together a portrait of a complex man who allowed hubris and competitive spirit to run amok.
“I didn’t live a lot of lies,” says Armstrong. “I lived one big lie.” It was one huge fib that lasted for his entire career, and arguably made his career. Doping allegations dogged Armstrong his entire career and he did whatever it took, regardless of the repercussions to friends and colleagues, to protect his reputation.
Gibney, an Oscar winner for Taxi to the Dark Side, does a good job at taking us along for the bumpy ride that goes along with being an Armstrong fan. He’s a complicated man who beat cancer and became a hero but whose legacy will be that of a liar who cheated and denied cheating until the weight of evidence was too much to bear.
The movie carefully plots out his downfall, how he is undone by an enormous ego. The bulk of the film takes place during the 2009 race, the beginning of the end for Armstrong’s career, detailing the behavior that leads to one friend suggesting, “doping is bad but abuse of power is worse.”
We all know how “The Armstrong Lie” will end. It’s a portrait of man who lied with a straight face and yet doesn’t seem to quite understand or accept the repercussions of his actions. Fascinating stuff on a complex subject.