New Documentary Paints an Unflattering Portrait of a Former Champion
Oscar winning filmmaker Alex Gibney’s film about the rise (and famous fall) of champion cyclist Lance Armstrong is finally here, and it doesn’t pull any punches. Even though the film features interviews with Armstrong, and he reportedly has a stake in the film himself with a share of the back end profits, the film paints a stark portrait of an athlete who would do anything and turn on anyone in order to protect his public persona and hide his illegal doping. The Armstrong “Lie” that this film exposes is a man who fans turned to for hope and inspiration, and underneath it all was an ego-driven bully with borderline pathological tendencies.
Gibney describes his completed film as detailing “the anatomy of a lie,” but it didn’t start out that way. As previously reported in Documentary Film Exposes Lance Armstrong’s Lies, the filmmaker traveled with the cycling superstar during 2008 and 2009 and was set to release an inspiring film about the storied comeback of a retired athlete. As fate or uncovered information would have it, before he finished the film, the doping scandal hit in 2010 and Gibney went back to the drawing board for new interviews, information, and a completely new angle. What emerges is a complete examination of the rise of celebrities in sport and how far they will go to maintain celebrity status, championships, and amassed fortunes, as seen through the story of one such athlete who took the hardest fall at all. This most shocking part of the whole ordeal is that Armstrong is neither contrite nor apologetic in his interviews.
The cold and calculating Lance that comes through in this film is a direct contrast to the hero the public saw as he cycled his way to seven Tour de France wins, battled cancer, and founded his Livestrong charitable organization. However, it begins to make sense as viewers see Armstrong discussing how prevalent doping was in the sport of cycling and how the physicians, teammates, and others closely connected with him fed his habit not because they wanted to help him win, but because they were terrified of the repercussions they faced if they went against him.
This is clearly demonstrated in the cases of Betsy Andreau and Filippo Simeoni, who both spoke about their roles in Armstrong’s downfall in the film. Andreau, the wife of Armstrong’s teammate who dared to speak on record about his doping, was harassed and vilified by Armstrong for her public honesty. And Simeoni, an Italian cyclist, was publicly bullied by Armstrong for daring to testify against an Armstrong doctor. Others who spoke out were also bullied and harassed by Armstrong, such as former teammate Floyd Landis, and a growing group of teammates, journalists, and cycling insiders who were starting to examine the truth about doping in elite cycling that would have had the power to collectively cause Armstrong’s empire to crumble if he hadn’t effectively denied and manipulated for so long.
Even the film’s title, “The Armstrong Lie,” came from something that Armstrong tried to hide for many years: an article that was published in French newspaper L’Equipe by journalist Damien Ressiot that offered scientific proof that Armstrong tested positive for illegal drug EPO during the Tour de France, the first hard evidence of its kind . . . way back in 2005!
True to the person we now know Armstrong to be, from his interviews and his depiction in this film, he stopped speaking to filmmaker Gibney after learning of the film’s title, and Gibney, himself a former fan who was disappointed in Armstrong’s lies, has created a film that is unflinching in its depiction of the damage that can be done when an athlete has to maintain a career built on deception and drugs.