Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 2013. Jigsaw Productions, The Kennedy/Marshall Company, Matt Tolmach Productions. Screenplay by Alex Gibney. Cinematography by Ben Bloodwell. Produced by Alex Gibney, Frank Marshall, Matthew Tolmach. Film Editing by Andy Grieve, Lindy Jankura, Tim Squyres. Toronto International Film Festival 2013.
Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney was still in the process of completing this film about Lance Armstrong‘s monumental career when his subject admitted to having won all seven of his Tour De France titles using illegal doping. Deciding to finish the project with this new information included, Gibney convinced Armstrong to discuss the issue on camera (plus glimpses of the highly publicized Oprah interview), telling a far more honest tale of his rags to riches heroism than had been known before. Armstrong became a celebrity following the victory of his achievements in the French cycling tournament, not to mention folk hero status when he recovered from a dangerous bout with testicular cancer that almost killed him. He became a household name and the head of a powerful charity foundation before rumours began to fly that he had spent years using forbidden methods to increase his skills on the bike. That would seem to be the extent of the revelations, but what is far more enraging than just the fact that he cheated (which the film does a fair job of pointing out as being common behavior among these athletes without pointing it out as an excuse), is that Armstrong also bullied all who suspected his dishonesty, tearing down the careers of those less powerful than him because of their pursuit of the truth. Many of those individuals, including former teammate Frankie Andreu, his wife Betsy, and sports journalist David Walsh, can barely contain their glee when being interviewed here, vindicated by the truth coming out and the star athlete being shamed into confession. What we find when looking at Armstrong now, however, is a man whose lies have been revealed but whose ambition has not been quelled; in admitting his sins Armstrong is still spinning the story in order to come out on top, and finding a way to make his tale one of redemption and perseverance and not the hubris of the obnoxious vanity that he has little self-awareness of. With his metallic good looks and borderline sociopathic personality, Armstrong makes for a compelling subject on film, charismatic if not complex (a guy who is raised by a single mother and tells every coach he has ever known that “You’re not my dad!” is not that hard to figure out). Gibney’s ability to present all sides of the story (including a genuinely admirable rise to the top from Texan obscurity) serves him well throughout this very entertaining film.