Monday, April 28, 2014

Short Cut Movie Review: The Armstrong Lie

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

Documentarian Alex Gibney set out in 2009 to make a film chronicling Lance Armstrong’s improbable comeback after a four year hiatus following his astonishing record-breaking feat of winning the Tour de France seven consecutive times. What Gibney slowly discovered was that he was beginning to be viewed in some circles as making a kind of sycophantic fan film for a man many believed to be a liar, a cheat, and ruthless in the use of his power an celebrity to maintain a code of silence surrounding the rampant doping that we now know the U.S. team was engaged in.

When it later became clear that charges of doping were going to be inescapable for Armstrong and that he would be likely be stripped of his Tour titles, Gibney shifted the focus of the story and ended up producing The Armstrong Lie. He opens the film with Armstrong talking mere hours after his Oprah interview during which he admitted to the American public that he’d been doping nearly his entire professional career, specifically during all of his incredible Tour de France wins. This certainly wasn’t breaking news to anyone who’d ridden with or against him and not even to anyone who pays any kind of attention to professional cycling. What was shocking was that he actually, after years and years of vehement denials and standing behind Livestrong, the cancer awareness foundation for which he’d raised millions of dollars, owned up to it, putting his professional life even outside of cycling in jeopardy.

The film never really amounts to a great deal, mainly because most of us know the story. There’s no big revelation to be discovered, no unlikely turn of events that hadn’t already saturated the sports media for years. If nothing else, there’s a certain fascination in seeing how Armstrong handles himself now that he’s owned his culpability. There’s no tearful remorse and little to evoke sympathy for any plight. His biggest regret appears to be attempting the 2009 comeback, without which most people tend to agree he would have remained “clean” in the eyes of International Cycling. It’s also pretty difficult t condemn yourself when you know that every one of your rivals was using similar methods of illicit performance enhancement. For all the guys interviewed who have since received lifetime bans for doping, it was always just matter of fact that to compete at that level, doping is a must. It seems to me that’s where the interesting story is. What would it take to actually make the sport truly clean? And what happens t the guys who abandon their pursuit early on in the face of refusal to cheat.

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