Did you believe ‘The Armstrong Lie’?
A three-star review of “The Armstrong Lie,” a documentary portrait of cyclist Lance Armstrong.
Seattle Times movie critic
‘The Armstrong Lie,’ a documentary directed by Alex Gibney. 123 minutes. Rated R for language. Sundance Cinemas.
Alex Gibney’s new documentary is, at heart, a portrait of a liar and a lie. It didn’t start out that way: “The Armstrong Lie” was originally conceived as an admiring film about Lance Armstrong’s comeback into the world of competitive cycling. A cancer survivor, the seemingly indestructible (and perfectly named) Armstrong was an inspiration to countless fans — until the whispers about his use of performance-enhancing drugs became too loud for anyone to ignore, and he finally confessed (on TV, to Oprah Winfrey) early this year. Thus a film that was once meant to be a tribute begins with a emotionless man calmly admitting that yes, he cheated for many years, and no, “it didn’t feel wrong.”
If you’re looking for remorse from Armstrong, you won’t find it here; the man goes so far as to explain that it wasn’t really cheating because he didn’t feel that he gained an unfair advantage. (Everyone else, he says, was doping too — true enough, but didn’t all of us learn, as kids, that doesn’t make it right?) Others quoted in the film have less benign reactions; one sports writer says that Armstrong doped in “the most professional, efficient way perhaps in the history of sports.”
Gibney, an Oscar-winning documentarian (for “Taxi to the Dark Side”), professionally and efficiently chronicles Armstrong’s transgressions, interviewing many of the key figures (fellow riders, trainers, former friends) in the long and complex saga, though perhaps dwelling a little too much on Armstrong’s final Tour de France. He even inserts himself into the film, clearly angered at having initially believed Armstrong’s “beautiful lie” instead of the ugly truth behind it. “He owed me an explanation, on camera,” Gibney says; he doesn’t really get one.
It’s a film designed to make us angry, to make us question why so many of us believed Armstrong for so long, why we wanted to buy the lies he was selling, why he seems remarkably unbothered (at least by what we see here) by his deception. In the end, he’s an enigma, and one to whom we’re ready to bid goodbye. Late in the film, Armstrong greets an adoring crowd and autographs a baby’s romper. She starts to cry. Smart baby.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org