The Armstrong Lie

Oscar-winning documentary director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) returns to a project he started over five years ago in The Armstrong Lie, which was initially envisaged as a film about champion cyclist Lance Armstrong’s 2009 comeback and now includes material shot after the 2012 revelation that the athlete’s insistent denials of ever having used performance-enhancing drugs were a lie.

Gibney himself, heard in voice-over at several points, explains he’d originally wanted to chronicle Armstrong’s planned comeback in 2009. Like many other journalists and fans, Gibney acknowledges that the story of Armstrong -- raised by a single mom in Texas and a cancer and subsequent chemotherapy survivor before becoming one of the best-known cyclists through his repeated Tour wins -- was just too inspiring, hopeful and beautiful not to believe.

Though he was a self-described “fan” of his subject, Gibney admits early on that Armstrong “lied to his face” during the making of his failed 2009 film and he’s owed “an explanation on camera.” There are no hard-hitting questions that Oprah didn’t already ask, though the film does go through greater lengths to explain how the various drugs (including EPO) and blood transfusions aided performance and went undetected for years.

The film falls roughly into two halves, with the first hour providing the backstory on Armstrong’s career, with talking heads and archive footage painting a picture of the cyclist as a head-strong and controlling leader who was just as much a fanatic on his bike as he was off it (“I was a bully,” he would later say to Oprah). After surviving cancer, he seems to have taken to heart the idea that “losing equals death.”

The second half dives into the 2009 race, including the nail-biting climb of Mount Ventoux that initiated the beginning of the end, and is contrasted with Gibney's new interview footage. - Boyd van Hoeij, Hollywood Reporter


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