The Armstrong Lie

The Armstrong Lie
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Director: Alex Gibney
Cert: 15A
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Lance Armstrong, Alex Gibney, David Walsh
Running Time: 2 hrs 4 mins

Whatever else you might say about Lance Armstrong, you couldn't say the disgraced, drugged-up cyclist was lazy. He really did spend a lot of time on his bike.

Something similar could be said of Alex Gibney. The documentarian here delivers his fourth film in two years and, like Mea Maxima Culpa and We Steal Secrets, the picture invites an interesting story to catch our attention without offering us any enormous insights or engaging in any stylistic innovations. Most everybody will learn something. Most everybody will, after two long hours, be left asking questions.

The Armstrong Lie is something of a patch-up job. In 2009, Gibney set out to make a film about Armstrong's return to cycling in that year's Tour de France. Rumours and accusations about the star's use of performance-enhancing drugs were already rife. But Gibney (who admits to being naive) remained eager to celebrate a great American hero. A few months after the race, Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey. He then offered Gibney the same couched mea culpa. Alex thus ended up with a film he never intended to make.

There are, in the story, many useful subtexts to be drawn. Much is made of the importance of Lance’s humble Texan background in driving his unstoppablewill to succeed. That grounding undoubtedly helped him in his determination to return after a bout with testicular cancer. But ambition also powers the sort of ruthlessness that leads to cheating. There’s a tart lesson about the American Dream there.


The ziz-zagging story remains diverting but, as it progresses, the half-finished nature of The Armstrong Lie becomes harder to ignore. Throughout the film there are references to the dogged work of Irish journalist David Walsh (a target of Armstrong's playground bullying), who refused to accept the Big Lie. Yet there is little attempt to detail the detective work that eventually led to the cyclist's confession. It appears to emerge out of a void.

Such forensic detail is, one supposes, a little less easy to flog than damp-eyed talking heads. But one can’t help but feel this film leaves an even more interesting story untold.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist