Friday, 11 July 2014

The Armstrong Lie

There's no doubt by now that everyone knows the general story behind Lance Armstrong's rise to stardom, and subsequent plummet from grace. After winning 7 editions of the world's toughest annual sporting event, Le Tour De France, and inevitably being shamed and stripped of every one of those wins, Armstrong's story is one of the greatest scandals in sporting history, if not for its controversy, then at least for its sheer scale, spanning over a decade.

A nominee for several Best Documentary awards, including a BAFTA, The Armstrong Lie takes an incredibly in-depth and up-close look at this, the biggest lie in the history of not only cycling, but sport itself.

Directed and narrated by Academy Award winning director, Alex Gibny, the film was originally started to document Armstrong's return to the sport back in 2009, when he returned to the sport after a brief 4 year retirement. However, as you might expect, fresh speculation that the supposed hero of your film might be guilty of breaking every rule in cycling regarding doping, throws somewhat of a spanner in the works. As such, the film was repurposed to explore and unravel one of the world's greatest deceptions.

I will begin by saying that the film is, for the most part, entirely accessible to those who aren't necessarily massive fans of cycling. French cycling terms like 'maillot jaune' or 'domestique' are used at a minimum, and all are at least explained when Gibny briefly outlines the ins and outs of the Tour De France. This possibly comes a little late in the film for some, but there certainly isn't anything left unexplained that might have even the most casual of fans scratching their heads.

Initially when the film begins, it's a little hard to follow, jumping back and forward between past interviews and the present; any lapse in concentration and you might lose track of which interview is which, should you miss the text overlay that explains it. However, Gibny's constant narration helps keep the film on track, as he sets the narrative and explains with the visuals. Once the introduction is out of the way, however, the film is mostly chronological, and as such, fairly easy to keep up with.

As you might expect with a reflective documentary, it is largely comprised of found footage. Anyone who's followed cycling for some time will have scene a number of the clips used time and time again (such as the infamous The Look clip) as the film illustrates the years of Armstrong's initial success. Even the footage from the film's initial subject, the 2009 Tour De France, will be familiar to anyone who, like myself, watched it avidly on TV at the time. However, where the film distinguishes itself is with the interviews.

The main subject of the interviews is, of course, Armstrong himself. This is supported by an array of interviews with key people and figures from the entirety of the near 15 year lifespan of this story, such as ex-team mates (Hincapie, Andreu, Vaughters) and, most impressively, the infamous Dr Michele Ferrari, the Italian scientist who masterminded Armstrong's doping regime.

Altogether, I'd say the film is brilliantly well made, discussing a vast array of topics and piecing together what is a complex and intricate story line, in a way that is easy to follow and understand. Despite the 2 hour run time, at no point did I feel the film was tedious or slow paced, and it does a great job at keeping you riveted to the screen. Essentially a brilliant mix of a history lesson of cycling from the late 90s - early 00s, a chemistry lesson, and one of the most compelling stories of both human endeavour and deceit, The Armstrong Lie is a fascinating watch.

A must-see for anyone remotely curious about the story, interested in cycling, or just outright angry at Lance Armstrong and the world's biggest lie.

The Armstrong Lie gets a 4/5.


Adam Freeman

The Armstrong Lie at CeX

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