I'll say this about Lance Armstrong: I couldn't give two damns about him when he was racing his little bicycle in the Tour de France all those years. Whenever I caught clips of his arrogant ass talking about the sport and defiantly bragging about the legitimacy of his victories, I thought he was a jackass. I didn't like the image the guy was putting out there, even before his doping scandal truly caught fire after his 2009 comeback.
Now that he's being caught in all sorts of vicious lies, well, I find him oddly compelling. I still think he's a douchebag, but it's just so damn interesting to watch him confess in that Oprah interview and, finally, in this "so revealing it's kind of creepy and you can't take your eyes off of it" documentary, The Armstrong Lie.
In 2009, filmmaker Alex Gibney set out to chronicle Armstrong's intended triumphant return to cycling, and his attempt to win his eighth Tour de France title. Allegations against Armstrong—allegations that were always there about performance-enhancing drugs—were starting to haunt one of the world's most famous athletes. He wanted to come back and prove that he could win the race with a clean bloodstream.
Gibney's documentary has taken on an entirely new look in the wake of the Oprah interview. It is now a chronicle of Armstrong's many, vindictive, damaging lies throughout his career. It is, perhaps, the most aptly titled movie of the year.
Armstrong basically admits in one of the post-apology interviews done for this movie that, had he just stayed retired and walked away from the sport, he probably never would've wound up sitting across from Oprah spilling his guts.
Because the movie was supposed to be a chronicle of the 2009 race and the return of the bicycling king, much footage of that race makes it into the movie. That race is used as a framing device for the film. Interspersed are many interviews with the likes of Armstrong, former teammates like the disgraced Floyd Landis, and officials who had, justifiably, targeted Armstrong throughout his career.
Look, lying about taking steroids, EPO and HGH has been standard for many athletes, certainly during the last 20 years. But Armstrong repeatedly threw his friends and teammates under the bus in a disgusting way that The Armstrong Lie shows again and again through archival footage. It's beyond amazing how brutal this man was, and is. A true example of a person willing to win at all costs.
As for Armstrong's accomplishments, I see him as something akin to the Six Million Dollar Man, with the bionic parts being replaced by all sorts of funky drugs. Look, a human being isn't supposed to be able to do what he did in his Tour de France victories ... it's actually inhuman. So whenever I see Lance starting to accelerate on his bike, I know it's as fake as that Six Million Dollar Man opening where Lee Majors starts out running at an impressive pace, and then they just speed the film up. Armstrong needed tricks of a different order to make him look fast, but they were tricks all the same.
The film spends a good portion of its time on Armstrong's cancer battle, which took place before any of his Tour victories. I had forgotten that the cancer had spread from his testicles all the way up to his brain, resulting in actual brain surgery. His being able to come back from almost certain death and ride again was a spectacular achievement. His decision to further risk his health and taint his sport by injecting all manners of drugs into his body is where he went terribly wrong.
The most shocking revelations in the movie concern just how defiant Armstrong and his team were during races, even performing blood transfusions in vehicles during races, with those vehicles parked in plain sight. There's also a scene where a whining Armstrong is forced to give blood and urine in front of his kids during breakfast time. He verbally abuses those administering the tests, declaring himself as some sort of persecuted victim.
When this movie is over, you feel as if you've just watched the documentation of a really troubled man who has been smoked out of a rabbit hole. I'm sure Armstrong thought coming clean might restore some of his so-called dignity, but it's a little too late for that. He's still staying mum about one particular hospital conversation before his comeback from cancer that has wreaked havoc on the lives of former friends.
So, what was originally intended as testimony to determination and conquering seemingly insurmountable adversities has become a profile of some dude with serious integrity issues. The Armstrong Lie is the sorriest of closing chapters to an athletic career you are likely to see.
Oh, wait ... A-Rod.