DVD review: The Armstrong Lie by Alex Gibney
- by Christopher Jones
- Published: 12 July 2014
What do you think about Lance Armstrong? I remember watching Armstrong racing in the Tour de France on SBS and winning time after time, but the cloud of doping allegations always hung over his head and he was never a sympathetic character. When the penny finally dropped, it was the extent of Armstrong’s deception as well as the impact on others that really surprised me.
Film maker Alex Gibney was hoping to catch the seven time Tour de France winner make a triumphant comeback in 2009 and was sanctioned and supported by Armstrong to capture this story. But then the Lance Armstrong doping affair really started to grow again with ever increasing media allegations. A US Federal Investigation was dropped in early 2012 without explanation and in mid July of that year the USADA made the first significant impact, banning Armstrong from competition under the weight of testimony from teammates.
The film was shelved; it was a disaster for filmmaker Gibney who could no longer show this inspirational return to cycling. Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France victories and Gibney reflected and decided to retell the story, but with a new perspective which became The Armstrong Lie.
This is a story worth telling for posterity’s sake, but if you’ve followed the career and demise of Armstrong, this film doesn’t present compelling new facts. Rather, it pieces the Armstrong story together with on-camera interviews of key personalities. If anything, it could make you detest Lance Armstrong even more, along with some of the people around him including team manager Johan Bruyneel who has been implicated in the cover-up.
The truth… according to Lance Armstrong
While Lance’s ‘admission to the world’ with American talk show host Oprah Winfrey was unsatisfying, Gibney filmed Armstrong directly after the Oprah interview where Armstrong candidly acknowledges that ‘that’ wasn’t the whole story and says that he is only one who knows the whole story. A few other hints are peppered throughout the film which suggests that there are some things that may never be revealed. The on-camera appearances by Armstrong, his collaborators, and his opponents mark the biggest difference between this film and other documentaries which tell the same story and use the same additional footage, such as the “Stop at Nothing: the Lance Armstrong Story” documentary which aired on ABC television.
I personally didn’t enjoy watching this film, not because of the film making, rather because of the subject matter. The extreme arrogance of Armstrong both before and after his admission is ugly. This is a person who regrets that he was ever convicted, and shows no remorse for all of the lives he impacted.
Team manager Johan Bruyneel sees himself as a scapegoat and still celebrates the tour success
The Italian doctor Michele Ferrari was the silent face behind many dopers
Floyd Landis, Frankie Andreu, and Greg LeMond have already publicly revealed how their career opportunities were taken away by Armstrong who held massive influence in the cycling industry. While Armstrong was able to influence many around him, people who chose not to lie under oath, such as Betsy Andreu and Emma O’Reilly, were publicly and privately ostracised. The film shows some glimpses of Armstrong leveraging the media to this effect. While the filmmaker grapples with the lies Armstrong has told him as the story-teller, and forms the story around his film making role, a number of avenues have been only superficially explored.
Intimidation, bullying and public humilation, wife Frankie Andreu (former Armstrong teammate), Betsy Andreu suffered under the wrath of Armstrong
Armstrong remains extremely rich. In the SCA case where Armstrong bet on himself to win the Tour, he netted $12 million in bonuses after a court case which failed to prove Armstrong had doped. Although Armstrong has since admitted to lying under oath and admitted to doping in all tours, his infamous ‘legal team’ is playing hardball to the suggestion that this money is returned. There are a number of other cases where Armstrong and his team sued individuals and organisations causing direct and indirect financial losses.
Closer to home, Armstrong was paid several million dollars to appear at the Tour Down Under in 2009 which launched his come-back to pro-cycling. While the South Australian Government politely requested a repayment (because it is the right thing to do), they can’t even reveal the sum paid because of a confidentiality agreement which would leave them open to legal action; the genius Armstrong’s big F*** Y** Australia.
Armstrong argues abnormal blood values from his comeback indicate incorrect testing… not doping
George Hincapie was faithful until 2012 when US Federal Investigators approached him
A lot of people unwittingly put their faith in Armstrong, but there was also a close team who actively bullied and intimidated. This is discussed in the film, but with the exception of Bruyneel, Armstrong’s teammates, and Oakley Rep Stephanie McIlvain, we don’t see who these people were and whether they have shared any responsibility for their actions.
This dissatisfaction that ‘justice has been done’ means that The Armstrong Lie is anti-climatic and reflects what we know today… that we don’t know the whole truth; Armstrong will first protect his interests before making amends, and Armstrong’s insistence that he is still a genuine seven time Tour de France winner means he is still in denial and is ‘radioactive’.
If you are new to cycling and new to this episode in the history of pro-tour cycling, then The Armstrong Lie will fill in the gaps and probably lead you to ask why certain prominent individuals are still involved in pro-cycling today. If you are up to speed, have been watching the news, and have read Uncovering the Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton, then this film may not provide any revelations.
We have five copies to give away to coincide with the official DVD launch on August 14. For your chance to get a copy, simply leave a comment and name one of the pro-tour teams for which Armstrong has ridden. Winners will be picked from Twitter, Facebook, the Australian Cycling Forum, and from this page. Our competition Terms and Conditions apply.