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NZ Film Festival Special: The Armstrong Lie

Jul 16, 2014 Film & TV

A great documentary maker meets an even greater crook.

The filmography of Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney reads like a hit list of corruption. Disgraced public servant Eliot Spitzer and Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay of Enron notoriety have all been subjected to Gibney’s lens. He’s clinically forensic, with a gift for seeing through deception and dragging the truth from the darkness.

Surprisingly, when invited to chronicle Lance Armstrong’s 2009 return amid rumors of a doping scandal, Gibney was suckered by Armstrong’s charisma and unknowingly became little more than a public relations resource.

The film was to be called The Road Back, a triumphant account of Armstrong’s reascension with Gibney’s reputation lending the cyclist’s claims of innocence some legitimacy.

It would never be seen outside the editing booth. Shortly before release, a Federal Anti-Doping Agency report confirmed what many had long suspected: Lance Armstrong owed his seven Tour De France titles to an unparalleled doping regime.

Gibney was left with half of a documentary and the shame of a burned idolater. “I went along for the ride,” he told the Telegraph. “I thought I was filming a tale of wholesome redemption.”

Armstrong’s hubris in commissioning Gibney was breathtaking. Drugged to the gills when he raced, he hired one of the greatest investigative directors alive to demonstrate his innocence. It’s comical and yet typical: Armstrong lived in a whirlpool of narcissism and sociopathic tendencies that overwhelmed almost everyone who got too close.

“I’ve never met a better liar,” said Gibney. “And I’ve met a bunch.”

The Road Back became The Armstrong Lie. Contrasting footage from the first version of the film with post-scandal interviews, Gibney reveals how Armstrong rationalised the lie he was living, and how determined he was to crush mercilessly every threat he faced.

 

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