Lance Armstrong is probably the most famous cyclist in the world, if not sportsperson. Between 1999 and 2005 he won the Tour de France a record breaking seven times consecutively, after having successfully recovered from testicular cancer. However, he’s always been dogged by rumour and speculation that he was doping in order to achieve his success. He retired from cycling in 2005 only to make his comeback in 2009, before finally quitting competitive cycling for good in 2011; at the time he was facing a US federal investigation into doping charges. In 2013 Lance Armstrong publically admitted, for the first time, to taking performance enhancing drugs during his career.
Given unprecedented access to the cyclist, Academy award-winning director Alex Gibney started out to make a documentary following Armstrong’s comeback. He had to seriously reconsider what film he was making when shortly after completion the drug allegations came to the fore. What was initially meant to be celebration of a heroic comeback during the 2009 Tour de France was quickly re-edited, splicing in new interviews and changing the nature of the documentary.
It’s clear from the footage that Armstrong has an incredibly strong and persuasive personality, and that Gibney was completely taken in by his charm offensive. The fact that Armstrong would agree to be interviewed again by a man he’d lied to is testimony to his self-belief and arrogance; justifying his actions by declaring that he’s a cheat in a field of cheaters really doesn’t wash. He’s been a clever manipulator of the media, but the when the truth caught up with him he has little defence.
The Armstrong Lie is a fascinating yet flawed documentary. It’s an illuminating addition to a well known story and as an example of what happens when a documentary gets turned completely on its head.
The Armstrong Lie is released on DVD and Blu-ray by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on June 2