The Armstrong Lie Blu-ray Review
Every sport has its icon: baseball has Babe Ruth, basketball has Michael Jordan, football has Joe Montana, hockey has Wayne Gretzky, soccer has Pelé, and cycling has Lance Armstrong. Or is it had?
In 2009, director Alex Gibney set out to make a film about Lance Armstrong’s return to cycling after his 2005 retirement. By the time he retired, he had won seven consecutive Tour De France titles, so what was the point of hopping on his bike again? Because it made a terrific story: sports hero battles cancer, triumphs over it, wins another championship, and silences all naysayers.
The comeback was chalked up to a loss and, not long after, the USADA charged Armstrong with using barred substances, stripped him of his titles and banned him from professional cycling. Armstrong, who denied taking any performance-enhancing drugs for years, was now a liar, a cheater and not the invincible man he thought he was.
Gibney could have scrapped the entire documentary and moved onto the next project. But now he had a title, THE ARMSTRONG LIE, and a perfect opening line: “I didn’t live a lot of lies, but I lived a big one.” The fact is, Armstrong did indeed tell a lot of lies; they just happened to be the same one over and over.
Early on, an interviewee comments, “This isn’t a story about doping; it’s a story about power.” And that’s just what it is. He himself has stated he can’t stand the idea of losing, and the media’s negative coverage and the USADA’s investigation were forms of losing. Armstrong had to win and he had to get away with it to protect his image and the prestige of his foundation—probably partly because there were still so many yellow gel bracelets left on the assembly line to hawk.
THE ARMSTRONG LIE doesn’t focus on the athleticism of its subject (how can it?). Instead, it puts two important elements under the microscope: the role of banned substances in professional sports and the dangers of power (and the arrogance and delusions that can come with it). Here is an athlete who went from Wheaties hero to outcasted punchline who isn’t worth the bike seat he’s rode on.
Gibney doesn’t expose Armstrong as a liar—that was done for him—but he does show how much of an arrogant and self-righteous liar he is. To do this, Gibney didn’t have to have guns blazing (although he certainly could have); he simply had to interview former teammates and experts, many of whom go into great detail about Armstrong and his habits.
THE ARMSTRONG LIE, which screened at the 70th Venice Film Festival and the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, is another compelling work from Gibney, who has previously examined Enron (ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM), wartime torture (TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE), Eliot Spitzer (CLIENT 9: THE RISE AND FALL OF ELIOT SPITZER), and the Merry Pranksters (MAGIC TRIP), to name a few. It’s also one of his more respectable works, as it shows him being lied to by his subject and refusing not to take it, as Armstrong certainly expected him to.
THE ARMSTRONG LIE BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.78:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. The documentary uses both new and archival footage and so the video quality is uneven. As the majority of footage is comprised of recent interviews (from 2009 on), though, the overall quality is quite good.
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitles in English, Chinese, French, Indonesian/Bahasa, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai. The documentary sounds good, but, as it’s heavy on dialogue, is limited in its range.
Commentary with Alex Gibney: Gibney goes into great detail on how the documentary evolved between 2009 and 2013, and how he constructed the film. Like all of Gibney’s commentaries, this one is a terrific and worthwhile listen for fans.
Q&A with Alex Gibney, Frank Marshall, Bill Strickland, Jonathan Vaughters & Betsy Andreu (39:56): Conducted at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, this Q&A features director Gibney, producer Marshall, author Bill Strickland, former Armstrong teammate Vaughters, and Andreu (wife of Frankie, also a former teammate of Armstrong’s) discussing the story and how the film came to be.
Deleted Scenes (43:59): There are nine here, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “What the Hell Am I Doing Here?” “In My Opinion,” “They Don’t Need to Worry About Me,” “Interbike Press Conference,” “Lance and George W. Bush,” “Warming Up,” “Stage 14 – Big George,” “The Team Time Trial,” and “Tour of California.”