“The Armstrong Lie” opened Friday in select cities across the U.S., Chicago being one of them. The movie began as filmaker Alex Gibney sought to document Lance’s 2009 Tour de France comeback. As such, Armstrong granted Gibney unfettered behind-the-scenes access to Armstrong.
While Gibney set out to chronicle Armstrong’s amazing comeback at the cycling world’s most prestigious race, he instead had an insider’s view as Armstrong’s world came crashing in and documented Armstrong’s fall from grace.
Gibney is no stranger to stories of deception and darkness. He is the filmmaker behind such documentaries as “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” (2005); “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God” (2012), about the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal; and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer.” His Oscar-winning “Taxi to the Dark Side” (2007) was about an innocent Afghani murdered by American soldiers.
When Gibney set out to make a documentary about Armstrong, he was looking to get away from the dark documentaries of his past. In “The Road Back,” as the documentary was first to be called, he was hoping for a story of redemption, a story of promise and hope and light. But it was not to be.
“I didn’t live a lot of lies. But I did live one big one.” – Lance Armstrong
Suspicions about Armstrong’s drug use actually began to surface in 2005, but, as Gibney points out, we were willing to overlook the obvious to believe in a hero.
Earlier in 2013, Armstrong admitted his performance-enhancing drug-use to Oprah Winfrey. Armstrong had promised that Gibney would be the first person he would talk to when he came clean.
“I was pretty angry,” Gibney said. “But I would have been more shocked and angry if I had been a true believer. But what made me really angry was that I realized I had been used. And I felt he owed it to me to sit down and talk with me again.”
Since Armstrong’s lie was exposed, Gibney has focused his efforts on reworking the material he had for his documentary and began speaking with those Armstrong crushed in his attempts to perpetuate his one big lie.
Gibney set out to expose the truth behind the lies. “Most of the facts had been revealed a long time ago,” according to Gibney. “The question was if they had been revealed, then how did Lance maintain that they weren’t true? That is what the film is about.” Chalk up another documentary by Gibney of a fall from grace, deception and darkness.
Ella Taylor, who reviews the documentary for NPR says: “The Armstrong Lie is rarely boring, and it’s beautifully shot by French-born cinematographer Maryse Alberti. But the film is more illuminating about the corrupt sports industry than it is about its subject.”
Along that note – if you’re not sick of all things Armstrong – in addition to the documentary, check out the recently published book, Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, The Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell, two journalists for the Wall Street Journal.
The book explores the breadth of the doping culture embraced by his pro cycling team. The authors find that “the Armstrong lie” goes beyond one man. Instead, the lie was perpetuated and protected by many other people who were all eager to have a hero in the sport of cycling.
For further reading and reviews of “The Armstrong Lie” and Wheelmen, visit the following links:
- The Armstrong Lie on NPR, “One Big Lie, And All Of Lance Armstrong’s Others.”
- Boston Globe piece, “Lance Armstrong Film Went from Redemption to Lie.”
- SFGate’s “‘The Armstrong Lie’ Review: Looking for the Truth.”
- The Associated Press’ “The Rough Road of the Armstrong Lie.”
- Interview with Wheelmen authors on NPR’s Fresh Air.
- To read an excerpt from Wheelmen and hear an interview with its authors, visit Wall Street Journal’s “Lance Armstrong: The Downfall of a Champion.”