Thursday, 24 October 2013

57th LFF Review: The Armstrong Lie

Director: Alex Gibney

Synopsis: An extensive documentary about Lance Armstrong and the countless lies he told about drug-taking.

Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney is a master in his field – documentary film – exploring a wealth of stories and subjects. Hands-on and investigative, Gibney is able to pry and prod around almost everything he’s analysing. His spotlight on Lance Armstrong is another example of this professionalism and dedication, although one of his least gripping films to date.

Taking an interesting U-turn from its initial focus on Armstrong’s triumphant return to cycling, the film changes course instantly to look at the eponymous lie. Armstrong had for years urged everyone that his success was in no way aided by “doping” but just as Gibney was finishing his celebratory documentary on the cyclist Armstrong admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs.  Gibney and millions of others had been lied to about the purity of Armstrong’s character and the “Live Strong” principle, paving the way for a very different documentary.

Seeing the strands of Gibney’s focus (from hailing Armstrong’s consistent victories, to giving him the third degree about his deceit) leaves The Armstrong Lie with an intriguing form. Gibney’s new narration over old footage, now with a different perspective, is damning and lucid. He becomes the head of his own inquest, now questioning someone he once always thought to be honest. Sadly, as compelling as this may be at points, the agenda soon becomes tedious. Knowing Armstrong lied is all we need to know; to explore the man’s life with the new notion of “Is that the truth?” is thought-provoking for a limited amount of time.

To view Armstrong in this light is another fascinating aspect, but only to begin with. Very quickly, to hear the multiple-Tour-de-France winner wax lyrical about his spotless training regiment again and again loses all meaning and poignancy. It boils down to Armstrong being a two-faced anti-hero, petty and almost monstrous, a persona he may now never lose.

Betsy Andreu, an old friend of Lance’s perfectly defines Armstrong’s career as a “vicious defending of that lie”. Seeing the cyclist in this manner is perfectly acceptable at points – he was cruel and unforgiving in aspects of his life. Knowing that from seeing this documentary (its greatest facet) leaves you with one distinct impression of the man – not to be trusted and recurrently unkind. The problem is, after all the publicity of his cheating, who doesn’t think that by now?

Gibney’s double-feature or “The Armstrong Triumph” and “The Armstrong Lie” moulds into one wearisome film. The 2009 comeback that generates a lot of footage is nail-biting for those who didn’t know how he came out at the end, though that audience would be such only if they were not interested in cycling. In the end, fans are watching recycled footage with a point of view already widely publicised.
Also posted on LiveForFilms

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