The Armstrong Lie – Review
There's a moment you might remember in the 2004 comedy Dodgeball, in which Lance Armstrong cameos as himself to inspire Vince Vaughn; the message in this moment is clear (and, indeed, verbally acknowledged) that Lance Armstrong’s position as one of America’s greatest living sportsmen is set in stone. It’s a sequence which, in the past four years, has become strangely eerie in hindsight and has certainly drastically darkened that moment in Dodgeball. Now, following Armstrong’s infamous public confession of abusing performance-enhancing substances, it’s that thought that Alex Gibney’s documentary The Armstrong Lie attempts to see through to its logical conclusion.
Originally conceived (and mostly shot) as a documentary chronicling Armstrong’s comeback to the sport in 2009, the events of 2013 saw a radical reshuffling, repurposing, and reshooting of the project into what is now an exploration of how one man can live a lie in front of the entire world for quite so long. But while the film handles itself, for the most part, with a certain amount of moral authority; it simply cannot overcome a very ardent bias, an inordinate amount of smirk-laden hand-wringing, and what appears to be an ego-driven need to bloat the film with material clearly intended for the film’s original concept, belying the revised overall point of the film as released in 2014.
The newly interviewed Armstrong himself sways opinion neither one way nor the other, he’s unlikely to change whatever preconceived opinion you already had, and comes across as a fairly unsympathetic and (in archived form) rather unsettling documentary subject. One looks at the gleeful contempt shown by Armstrong in footage recorded over the years and cannot help but be reminded of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger displaying a similar sociopathic tendency in cult classic 70’s body-building documentary Pumping Iron. The contemporary Armstrong tries somewhat valiantly to avail himself as a regretful and misunderstood role model, however the scope of his past deceit is laid on thick and fast in a film which really has no time for such melodrama and would instead prefer to address the wounded pride of Armstrong’s former collaborators, including Gibney himself, as admitted in the film’s narration.
The need to include the 2009 documentary’s narrative however proves to be the biggest hinderance, stopping the film dead at the ninety minute mark to provide a near half hour play-by-play of the 2009 Tour de France, which lacks anyway near the audience engagement of Armstrong himself or the dominant doping story to simply recap a bicycle race. It’s a creative decision that’s simply baffling as there is no way in a month of Sundays that any editor in their right mind (the film had three) could have been asked to include it without, at the very least, pointing out to Gibney that it killed the narrative dead for nearly a full quarter of its running time. Added to the film’s existing bias issues and endless parade of wounded victims (by the end, several begin to blur together), what you’re left with is less Pumping Iron and more Peddling Aluminium, the endless pushing of a lightweight concept that simply can’t support the weight of it’s egotistically overbloated content.
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Lance Armstrong, Reed Albergotti, Betsy Andreu