Dir.: Alex Gibney
Cast: Lance Armstrong, Betsy Andreu, Frankie Andreu, Michele Ferrari
USA 2013, 124 min.
In 2005 Alex Gibney (Mea Maxima Culpa) had started a documentary called The Road Back about Lance Armstrong’s comeback, which led to him trying to win a record eighth Tour de France title. The film was finished but not publicly screened, when Armstrong confessed on TV in an “Oprah Interview” on January 17th 2009 that he had taken drugs all along. Gibney, who had fallen for Armstrong’s denials like most people, had to start over all again, finishing with THE ARMSTRONG LIE, which showed the ex-hero as callous, cold and manipulating.
Obviously the film’s structure suffers from these events, because Gibney himself was taken in by Armstrong’s hero image. As a result, Gibney is not hard enough on the ‘post Winfrey’ Armstrong; in showing the corruption which governed the International Cycling Union (ICU), whose ex-president Hein Verbruggen (he served from 1991-2005 and is still honorary president) was a good friend of Armstrong, the filmmaker tries to distance himself from being duped himself by pointing to the bigger picture. Doubtless doping is – in all sports – still a major problem, but never has one person benefited so much and over such a long time from cheating. And never has a (wo)man convicted for doping described their crime as “having an advantage over competitors” like Armstrong. Armstrong sued, or threatened to, everyone who claimed to have knowledge of his doping abuses, destroying the lives of his competitor Frankie Andreu and his wife Betsy in the process.
There are many character flaws in most athletes competing in single sport events, which require a ‘tough’, insensible and egocentric personality structure (team sport participants are usually more interactive in their approach), but Armstrong’s calculating nature is still unique: he built himself into a hero who conquered cancer. establishing a fundraising empire; gaining a ‘trophy wife’ in form of the singer Sheryl Crow (leaving his wife Kristen and mother of his three children in a public spat) and never ever said sorry for anything – instead he portrays himself now as the ‘tragic’ hero. There is no tragedy about Armstrong; he is nothing short of a criminal – and the failure of this film is that even Gibney fails to shame him. AS
THE ARMSTRONG LIE IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 31 January 2014