57th BFI London Film Festival Review – The Armstrong Lie (2013)

The Armstrong Lie, 2013.

Written and Directed by Alex Gibney.

57th BFI London Film Festival


Alex Gibney began recording Lance Armstrong back in 2009 until filming was halted due to the much publicised doping scandal. When filming resumed several years later the project had taken on a much darker tone as the seedy underbelly of world cycling became more and more a part of the story.

The Armstrong Lie

There’s a quote in the film that perfectly describes what this documentary is all about: “The beautiful lie and the ugly truth”. While that may sound a tad wishy-washy, it perfectly brings together every aspect of this picture and especially Lance himself.

The beautiful lie could refer to how Armstrong managed to convince everyone that he was a ‘clean athlete’ for so long. Or it could refer to Armstrong himself and the fact that he is an incredibly untrustworthy man – something you come to realise while watching this film.

The ugly truth however is much simpler; it’s the fact that Armstrong is definitely not who he made himself out to be. In addition to Armstrong, it also references another far reaching truth, that events like the Tour de France are basically a sham due to seemingly everyone involved being on some kind of performance enhancing drug.

This film masterfully tackles all of this and more in a completely unbiased and compelling tale of a fall from grace unlike almost anything else you have ever seen.

If you’re honest, almost all the credit should go to director Alex Gibney as he further cements himself as one of the best documentarians on the planet.

With a story so divisive, it’s hard to know how Gibney could have remained so impartial during filming. He manages to let the simple facts and archive footage tell the story, allowing you to make up your own mind instead of opinions being forced on you – something that a lot of documentary makers could learn from.

Of course, he does mention on several occasions his personal feelings towards Armstrong but that’s not to sway opinion, that’s just so you know why he’s asking the questions he’s asking.

Gibney also talks about the fact that at one time even he got caught up in the spectacle of Lance Armstrong and his story, something that you as a viewer will do at one point or another – and therein lays the biggest draw of this film, Lance himself.

Whether you love him or hate him, you want to know more about him, his story and more importantly his reasons for lying for such a long time. Unfortunately though, you may not like what you see and that’s one of the most powerful things about The Armstrong Lie; the fact that even if you are completely ambivalent towards him, you’ll leave with an opinion and a very strong personal viewpoint.

Your opinion may be swayed by some other people’s opinions of Armstrong as well but oddly enough, they are not all as negative as you may expect. Former teammates that he’s screwed over, people he’s publicly humiliated and a whole host of others who he’s bullied or browbeaten all seem to be surprisingly pleasant about him. Even though some should hate him to his very core, Armstrong still seems to generate a certain amount of loyalty and that in itself is enthralling.

This is definitely the sort of film that you will want to talk about so without letting you know too many of the films secrets, it’s easier just to say that this is a truly stunning exposé of a man who has been called everything ranging from tyrant to superstar. It’s an unflinching, honest and thought provoking story that deserves to watched, and has to be admired.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Ozzy Armstrong is a Stargate and Rocky superfan. Follow him on Twitter.

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