Documentary Site started as an outlet for my interests in documentary 15 years ago. Since then, my presence has expanded to writing, managing Twitter fans, and connecting with makers, promoters, and fans of documentary. Probably three of the coolest things to come from this endeavor are being invited to write for POV, visiting Kartemquin studios, and leading a discussion after a screening of The Trials of Muhammad Ali. My current project involves watching and writing about 365 documentaries in 2014. Feel free to send along your suggestions via Twitter @documentarysite!

#365Docs: The Armstrong Lie (28/365)

by |

I’m watching 365 documentaries and writing about each one in 2014. Tweet your suggestions to @documentarysite, or send an e-mail to hmcintosh@documentarysite.com. Read more.

Note: This post may contain spoilers.

The Armstrong Lie is a well-made documentary about a man whom I just can’t like and like even less after sitting through this two-hour film from Alex Gibney.

Lance Armstrong used to be known in the cycling world for his seven wins of the Tour de France, his comeback from cancer, and his philanthropy through the Livestrong Foundation. Armstrong insisted that he never enhanced his performance through blood doping, drugs, or other means — that is, until March 2013 when he confessed during an exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Calling himself a fan at one point, Gibney started documenting Armstrong’s story in 2008 when Armstrong attempted a comeback to cycling. Gibney opens the documentary with Armstrong’s lowest point: his interview with Oprah and his confessions therein. Armstrong’s story doesn’t get much higher from there.

This documentary’s story thus functions on two levels: Armstrong’s changing story in that time span and Gibney’s thoughts on making the documentary about Armstrong, which he conveys in voiceover throughout. While I understand Gibney’s reasons for putting his own perspectives in the piece, I felt they offered little in terms of understanding the former professional cyclist.

Despite his extensive charitable contributions and fundraising, Armstrong still comes across as unlikeable in just about every interview and archival material. He bullied people into keeping quiet about his doping history, and he rode an immense wave of fame and fortune on those lies. Even though he admits to them, he appears unrepentant, unemotional, and even smug.

The documentary is well shot despite the lack of charismatic subject. Shots of cyclists, including ones taken from the bikes themselves, enhance some of the competitions’ excitement. Overall, the structure works and the materials flow smoothly, but in the end the story remains almost static in its telling.

Get more documentary film news and features: Subscribe to POV’s documentary blog, like POV on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @povdocs!

Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh started Documentary Site as a resource for documentary media and has greatly enjoyed the connections it has fostered over the years.