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Movie review: 'The Armstrong Lie'

The Armstrong Lie

Director: Alex Gibney

Cast: Lance Armstrong, Frankie Andreu, Michele Ferrari, Betsy Andreu

Rated: R (strong language)

Running time: 122 min.

Posted 5:03pm on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013

This isn’t a story about doping, an observer says in the scathing documentary about disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, The Armstrong Lie. It’s a story about power.

That’s the crux of this fascinating reflection on Armstrong’s triumphant rise and calamitous fall from noted documentarian Alex Gibney ( We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks). While the film might seem like piling on at this point, what Gibney brings to this is a sense of personal outrage and betrayal. He was a staunch Armstrong supporter who began the film nearly five years ago to document the then-retired cyclist’s ballyhooed return to the sport for the 2009 Tour de France.

But what was intended as hagiography turned into a horror film as the athlete finally acknowledged the accusations that had long dogged him — that he used performance-enhancing drugs during competitions. He was banned from racing, had his seven Tour de France titles yanked away, and ended up sitting down with Oprah Winfrey for a confession/interview earlier this year.

Through it all, Gibney was there, talking to former teammates, associates and cycling journalists — including the elusive Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, the man accused of orchestrating the doping program for Armstrong’s team. Of course, there’s the access Gibney had to Armstrong himself which, to the cyclist’s credit, he didn’t seem to restrict once he realized that this story was not going to have a happy ending.

Gibney’s portrait shows a man who, from his days as the son of a single mom in Plano to a globally recognized celebrity, was all about being in control — of a bicycle race, of the cancer that could have killed him, of the people around him, and of his image.

The Armstrong Lie is also beautifully shot. The footage from some of the races — set against the sun-kissed European countryside — is exquisite.

While there are no new explosive revelations in The Armstrong Lie — and, at just over two hours, it’s a touch too long — it’s still a mesmerizing cautionary tale.

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