Monday, November 11, 2013
The Armstrong Lie
Alex Gibney is the preeminent, and perhaps the most prolific, documentarian in the current cinema.
He typically trains his camera on despicable and duplicitous men, from the financial fraudsters of "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" to the corrupt politicians of "Casino Jack and the United States of Money" to the pedophile priests of "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God." He's done so again in his new biography of Lance Armstrong, "The Armstrong Lie," but what makes this film unique is Gibney's confession that he too was conned by the con man, that he too overlooked glaring red flags to buy into Armstrong's narrative of the cancer survivor who conquers the most grueling physical challenge in major sport.
In 2009, Gibney began production of "The Road Back," which was to document Armstrong's "clean" comeback at the 2009 Tour de France. He was allowed unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to Armstrong and his Astana team, and if nothing else "The Armstrong Lie" is an amazing cycling film, showing us how shockingly close spectators are allowed to come to their heroes along the Tour and how difficult it is, under the circumstances, to make up seemingly short gaps between the leaders and the peloton. As always, Gibney brings reportorial rigor to his work, explaining to us like a prosecutor to a jury how Armstrong cheated in his seven Tour wins, the people and mechanisms involved. We also see Armstrong's sociopathic side, how willingly he threw friends and teammates under the bus to maintain his image. But Oprah covered all that; what's new here, and what has stayed with me afterward, is a filmmaker as intelligent as Gibney admitting to his own form of complicity and having the courage to laugh at his own naïvete when Armstrong left him, too, with only lies.