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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.