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Susan Granger's review of 'The Armstrong Lie'

Published 3:27 pm, Friday, December 13, 2013
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The story of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong follows along the lines of classic Greek tragedy: Hubris (the sin of pride and arrogance) to Ate (moral blindness or madness) to Nemesis (inevitable destruction). Among the ancients, after calamity occurs, the protagonist usually regrets his hubris. Here, a somewhat chastened Armstrong finally admits, "I didn't live a lot of lies, but I lived a big one."

In 2008, Alex Gibney started filming a celebratory documentary about Lance Armstrong's comeback to cycling after a three-year retirement. The pro-

ject was shelved when the dop-

ing scandal erupted, and re-

opened after Armstrong's con-

fession. Using Armstrong's televised interview with Oprah Winfrey to set the stage, Gibney recalls Armstrong's trials and tribulations -- from his battle with testicular cancer in 1996 to his seven consecutive Tour de France victories (1999-2005). Widely acclaimed as one of the world's greatest athletes, Armstrong would have retained that glory had he not desired to bask once again in public adoration. But by this time, many professional cyclists had been busted for doping. His former teammates knew how duplicitously Armstrong had used EPO (the drug prescribed by his Italian doctor), testosterone, cortisone, the human growth hormone, even blood transfusions to enhance his performance over the years. Resentful, they were ready to testify.

While Gibney intercuts these revelatory interviews with clips of Armstrong vehemently denying drug use and viciously lashing out at his critics and detractors, the narrative lacks the insight that Gibney has brought to previous subjects in "We Steal Secrets," "Catching Hell" and "Taxi to the Dark Side." Perhaps because Gibney, too, was dazzled by Armstrong's mystique, he never delves into what drove the Texas competitor to be so brazen -- other than a desperate desire to win. After far too much 2009 Tour de France footage, eventually, Armstrong concedes, "It's very hard to control the truth forever. This has been my downfall."

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Armstrong Lie" is a scalding 6, revealing how the fear of humiliation is one of the greatest motivators in human behavior.