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The Armstrong Lie (10/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 123 minutes.

OK for children.

Until you’ve had experience with a pathological liar, you can’t begin to know what the simple phrase means. A pathological liar isn’t someone who says she didn’t take the candy when she really did. That’s just a liar. A pathological liar is a psychopath who is charming and believable and twists facts and events into such a convoluted miasma that anyone uninformed has no alternative but belief.

Pathological liars are narcissists who care only for themselves. They will go to extraordinary lengths to preserve the false image they have created and they have no concern for the damage they do to others, both financial and psychological.

This is the tale of Lance Armstrong, who is presented in this documentary as one of the most notorious pathological liars of the 21st Century (so far). Produced and directed by Alex Gibney, this is not what it started out to be. In 2008 he commenced on making a documentary about Lance Armstrong’s life story, which was compelling, concentrating on his effort to come back after his 2005 retirement and win an 8th Tour de France in the 2009 Tour. Despite a life-threatening bout with testicular cancer in the ‘90s, Armstrong went on to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times, which was unprecedented. He founded a much lauded charitable organization devoted to fighting cancer and raised over $300 million dollars.

Using 10 cameras to shoot the Tour, Gibney ended up with a titanic 200 hours of film that he condensed into the movie he thought he wanted to make, and was pretty much ready to go when 2011 happened. Gibney watched Tyler Hamilton detail Armstrong’s “doping” on “60 Minutes,” and knew the movie he had made “would never fly.” More revelations occurred and suddenly Gibney’s film wasn’t the feel-good movie he wanted to make, but a movie about Armstrong’s lie.

Gibney has interviews with most of those involved, like Michele Ferrari, Armstrong’s doctor and coach who helped him dope, Betsy Andreu, who testified that she witnessed Armstrong admit to doping in a hospital room (and whom Armstrong sued), and David Walsh, a sportswriter who was the first to expose systemic doping in cycling. Gibney interwove the film he shot in 2009, including lots of interviews with Armstrong, with interviews he shot after Armstrong finally came clean, even after he appeared with Oprah for his grand mea culpa. In fact one interview with Armstrong took place only hours after the Oprah interview.

This is a fascinating film. Any documentary that lasts over two hours is probably too long, but I actually hated to see this end. It’s beautifully shot and edited. Even in the end, when you know the horrible things Armstrong did to good people who only wanted the truth to come out, you can’t help but realize how charming he is. That’s what allowed him to achieve such notoriety in the pantheon of evil liars. But you really have to see this to appreciate the story.