History has always been full of victors and heroes. Their stories of success take the world by storm and they almost always gain a following. The hope and good these victors inspire in people relies on the fact that the heroes were truthful in their victories. Just one lie can undo everything that the hero changed. What’s worse, is that one lie can destroy the lives of others around you. The more concealed you want a lie to be, the more willing you are to do whatever it takes to keep your lie a secret. When you’re a celebrity, the stakes are even higher and your downfall will be even greater, which is something the world witnessed in 2013.
On January 17, 2013, renowned cyclist Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance enhancing drugs to Oprah Winfrey on live television. Despite over a decade of doping allegations and teammates admitting to seeing Armstrong use PEDs, Armstrong adamantly lied to the world time-after-time and convinced most that he was a true hero and someone to aspire to be like. Before winning seven straight Tour de France races after surviving testicular cancer, Armstrong created the Livestrong Foundation in 1997 and raised millions of dollars for cancer patients. His trademark Livestrong bracelets became a global signal of hope in the fight against cancer. The story of a cancer survivor winning the Tour de France 7 times while doing it clean took the world by storm and thrust Armstrong into the spotlight.
Since the late 90’s, Armstrong and his many teams fell under fire for possible doping. After throwing fellow and past teammates under the bus for doping, Armstrong retired for four years. In 2009, he decided to race the Tour de France again, which caught the attention of everyone, including director Alex Gibney. Gibney began a documentary in 2009 that documented Armstrong’s return to cycling and the motives behind it. Out to prove that he wasn’t doping and was working hard, Armstrong placed third in the race and still fell under scrutiny. When new charges arose about doping in the past, the documentary got scrapped until Gibney returned to Armstrong, demanding that he give him the real truth. The result is this eye-opening and thrilling documentary that takes us inside Armstrong’s head and brings the lies and their motives to the forefront.
Alex Gibney already had one amazing and successful documentary released this year, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. It’s rare that a director releases two films in the same year. It’s even more rare that both films are really, really great. Gibney has a very unique approach to uncovering information and uses a style of questioning and showing footage that’s incredibly enticing. He strives to tell all sides of the story, without showing favor to any of them. This prompts you to make a decision for yourself in what you choose to believe and how you choose to interpret the information you receive.
I’m really torn when it comes to how I feel about Lance Armstrong. For years, I sported a yellow Livestrong bracelet like half the planet did. I even watched the Tour de France once, just because I so desperately wanted him to win. While I wasn’t too interested in cycling news, I was aware that some people thought that he was doping. After many denials, I sided with Armstrong and just wished that people would leave him alone. I mean, he survived cancer and then won 7 consecutive races. That story is shocking in itself and I looked up to Armstrong. The Armstrong Lie does a wonderful job of emphasizing this feeling that many shared about Armstrong and his story. I was instantly able to relate to this and I loved how that aspect was included in the film. Myself and millions of others fell victim to Armstrong’s lie and even backed him when he fell under fire, as highlighted in the film.
The most interesting thing about this film is the inclusion of footage from 2009, when Gibney was chronicling Armstrong’s comeback. As we see Armstrong flat-out lie in the footage, the film cuts back to Gibney interviewing Armstrong and asking for the truth. In many instances, Armstrong is disgusted with the footage and his face is all the proof you need of that. The archive footage of Armstrong berating teammates and opposers is deeply upsetting and to see the results of what happens to those that crossed him is horrible. It’s evident that Armstrong was an intimidating man and he used that intimidation to destroy anyone who stood against him. The film clearly demonstrates that you were either on his side, or you weren’t. Simple as that.
As I mentioned previously, Gibney possesses the ability to present every side of the story. Despite his cheating and incessant lying, you can’t deny all the good that Armstrong has accomplished. Through his racing and legacy, he’s raised millions in support of fighting cancer. His visits to clinics and goodwill towards cancer patients standout among a history of deceit and you can’t help but somewhat appreciate what he’s done. Armstrong’s allegedly clean race in 2009 (in which he placed 3rd) is also a curious thing, because if he did race clean, he did really well. While the PEDs did enhance his performance somewhat, it still takes a hell of an athlete to win the Tour de France SEVEN CONSECUTIVE TIMES! Regardless of my feelings towards Armstrong, I can’t help but have some shred of admiration for him. I think that fact sums up how well Gibney did his job in making this film.
What keeps Gibney from fully realizing his mission in telling Armstrong’s story is the fact that some aspects of Armstrong’s lies aren’t explored as deeply as they could have been. I also feel as if not enough time is spent interviewing Armstrong, as much of the film is footage from 2009 and archived footage. Armstrong seemed at his most weakest when Gibney asked him questions and showed him footage and that’s what I thought we should have seen more of. The film does run long and seems to repeat itself every now and again. Aside from that, The Armstrong Lie hits almost every other nail on the head with spectacular fashion. We see the rise and fall of an American and world icon whose lies impacted everyone, everywhere. Whether or not you still like Armstrong is up to you, but it’s clear to me that this film is certainly one to like, maybe even love.
The Armstrong Lie Trailer