By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
Back in 2009, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney started filming a documentary about Lance Armstrong’s triumphant return to the Tour de France, as he sought to win an eighth time while undergoing regular tests to put all of those nasty doping rumors to rest.
Which went great…
The Armstrong Lie is the documentary that merges that earlier story (and the story of Armstrong’s career, and the Tour de France in general) with all of the fallout that has occurred since he was caught using performance-enhancing drugs. Along the way it also becomes a study in hubris, truth and deception, both to the world and to oneself.
I had taken a while to get around to this documentary because, while I am a sports fan, that part of me doesn’t often intersect meaningfully with my film-loving and analyzing self.
Great movie, simplistic and rather dumb baseball story.
So, I figured this flick would be a rather dry recounting of events I already knew all about, or a character piece of a man who I’ve heard enough about, thank you. Well, I was wrong. This is The Fog of War of the sports world.
It begins by snappily laying out to the perfect tune (the use of music here is a great play on inspirational sports films in general) and Gibney doesn’t leave a rock un-overturned from there. Along the way, in right at two hours, he lays out Armstrong’s career and the story of his former documentary, familiarizes the layman with the structure and strategies of the Tour de France, and then delivers an indictment of the entire sport and its relationship with performance enhancers.
This is the story of Lance Armstrong and his relationship with truth and artifice first and foremost, though. It’s hard not to get caught up in this man’s bullshit, even when you know he’s full of it- he’s that charismatic, and the legend is that compelling. But then you see him basically call his accusers liars, alcoholics, even whores with a straight face, and that feeling disappears.
All of this really comes to a head in the 2009 comeback, though, where we see one more dimension to the man- he can’t even tell the truth to himself. Watching him scrabbling to craft one more comeback narrative, a redemption tale, maybe even a justification of all the lies that brought him to the top of this pedestal, the same that were tearing him off it at that every moment, is nothing less than fascinating.
Alex Gibney stumpled across documentary gold when he picked 2009 to tell the Lance Armstrong story. The result is the story of not just a disgraced athlete, but the nature of legend itself, and the lengths some will go to achieve it.
Take a Drink: whenever the drugs or doping is mentioned
Take a Drink: whenever the cancer is mentioned
Take a Drink: whenever the championships are mentioned
Do a Shot: for every lie (or… don’t. Please don’t)