Starring: Lance Armstrong, Reed Albergotti, Betsy Andreu
Directed by: Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”)
For documentary films, it’s always a possibility that the idea filmmakers have going into a specific project will change once the cameras start rolling and the story begins to evolve with each new interview and revelation. No one knows this better than Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) who initially started making what would ultimately become “The Armstrong Lie” as a film about cyclist Lance Armstrong’s return to the sport after retiring four years prior. Instead, Gibney, and the rest of the cycling world, is sideswiped by Armstrong when he finally admits, after years of denial, that he, in fact, used performance-enhancing drugs for a majority of his professional career. The film Gibney thought he was making was turned on a dime and a new one was born. In “The Armstrong Lie,” Gibney reviews Armstrong’s career – specifically the hundreds of times he blatantly lied to peoples’ faces about drug usage – and packages it into an unflattering analysis of one of sport’s most contentious stars.
While “The Armstrong Lie” is a very well made documentary from a technical aspect, it does seem like Gibney is forced to save face and go with what he’s got to finish his project and include the bombshell Armstrong dropped earlier this year (which, come on, wasn’t really big news to begin with since most people assumed he was juicing like everyone else in the sport). Gibney, however, beefs up the narrative in some nice places. For example, Gibney interviews Betsy Andreu, the wife of Armstrong’s former teammate Frankie Andreu, who testified that she once heard Armstrong admit to his doctor that he used performance enhancers. Like most of “The Armstrong Lie,” the hearsay is something followers of the doping allegations already knew, but it is interesting enough to watch Andreu, after begin called a liar herself for so many years, get a little vindication (even if Armstrong himself still won’t admit that specific confession to his doctor happened in the presence of Andreu).
With so many doping scandals being revealed over the last decade in professional sports, “The Armstrong Lie” is just another jab to the ribs for sports purists who wish the athletes so many look up to for their talent would realize how their dishonesty is negatively affecting the game. If anything, Gibney has provided audiences with another dense cautionary tale about the dark side of sports that has, unfortunately, become all too familiar. Gibney may have been undercut by talk show queen Oprah Winfrey (she was the first to officially reveal the big lie during her interview with Armstrong), but because Armstrong basically ruined his original film, he seems to have a lot more urgency to make sure the full story is finally pieced together into one very comprehensive albeit discouraging exposé that Armstrong can’t deny.