In some truly fascinating ways, Alex Gibney's “The Armstrong Lie” is a post-mortem on not only the career of disgraced seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, but on the movie that Gibney almost made.
In 2009, Gibney was in the process of shooting a documentary on Armstrong's attempted comeback, a Tour de France run undertaken after four years in retirement. Armstrong's plan was to silence the doping allegations that dogged him since the 1990s. Gibney, the director of “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” and “Taxi to the Dark Side,” was on board to record the planned resurrection of Armstrong's career and reputation.
Instead, Armstrong's return to cycling only revived the scrutiny, culminating in his televised confession to Oprah Winfrey earlier this year.
Armstrong became a superstar not just because of his drive and ability, but because he won a battle with testicular cancer in his 20s and converted his medical and cycling victories into philanthropy. But the Plano, Texas, native's win-at-all-costs attitude, his willingness to throw longtime teammates under the bus to maintain the facade, made his downfall all the more infuriating and disillusioning.
Gibney spends a lot of time on the creation of the “beautiful lie” surrounding Armstrong, one he admits to believing up to a point. Then he pulls together the ugly truth with exhaustive investigation and in-depth interviews with former teammates, including Frankie Andreu and his wife, Betsy, who became Armstrong's most vocal critic. “The Armstrong Lie” is a tragedy of hubris and defiance, but in the end, Armstrong still comes across as being angrier at getting caught than at himself for injecting banned substances and undergoing secret blood transfusions to win. He still thinks those wins count, which means that “The Armstrong Lie” is not all in the past.
— George Lang