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The Armstrong Lie


A portrait of a vicious cycle.

Rod Lott February 18th, 2014

Someday, celebrity cyclist Lance Armstrong may regret hiring Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney to document his 2009 "comeback," but I doubt it. As The Armstrong Lie demonstrates time and again for two mostly gripping hours, the athlete is still unable to tell the whole truth and nothing but.

armstronglie

The portion of truth he is telling, he's doing only because he finally got caught, after a decade of bald-faced denials. Money corrupts, but it can't buy everything, as Armstrong now knows — but has not yet learned. There exists a huge difference. 


No one should be surprised a very famous, very wealthy man got so drunk with power, his judgment was clouded, if not erased. Cheating by doping may have taken away his seven Tour de France titles, but it cannot erase Armstrong's incredible athletic skills … or arrogance to match. The man is no victim, no matter how many Oprah apology tours he makes. 


The most telling piece in Gibney's documentary is that Armstrong equates losing with death, which says a lot about his skewed priorities. So raging is his ego that anything other than first place is unacceptable, is considered a failure; that thinking led him to actively destroy lives of friends and colleagues in order to continue his charade. Forgive me if I do not feel to urge to pat Armstrong on the head and say, "Oh, it's okay, Lance"; viewers may find themselves skeptical to believe anything the man now says. 


No, objectivity is not a co-star here. How could it when Armstrong still evades certain aspects of the situation? As director and narrator, Gibney is pissed as his subject for the to-the-face manipulation — but also at himself for being gullible enough to buy into it. Rightly, the filmmaker feels he is owed an explanation from his fallen star; in doing so, he serves as the audience's surrogate. 


The answer Gibney gets in The Armstrong Lie is at least a partial one. Do not expect a sequel. As the great critic James Wolcott once wrote in a profile on novelist Martin Amis, his subject reverted to "the Clintonesque 'Mistakes were made' mode, the testimony of a stricken bystander rather than an active player." 


Lance, I am proud and glad you defeated cancer, but you have lost a battle more important: the one for credibility. Good for Gibney for holding you to it.  —Rod Lott


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