Since doping revelations have since come to light in the past couple of years, what follows is a change of plan to Gibney’s original documentary idea. He goes armed again with his camera to try and get a ‘true’ confession out of the cyclist, especially as he was lied to face-to-face back then. It’s cringeworthy, ‘car crash’ viewing that doesn’t require any knowledge or love of the sport (or Armstrong) to be gripping and entertaining for the full 122 minutes run-time.
In fact, what’s on show is how far one competitive man will go to stay at his peak – and in the limelight he seems to covet. It also shows how delusional Armstrong can be, leaving you utterly astounded at the audacity of the controversial sportsman, even believing his own myth in front of close friends he sets up for the fall. It’s like watching a real-life pantomime villain at play that you want to boo and hiss at. Conversely, Gibney does show Armstrong’s celebrity power in raising funds for cancer survivours, like him, painting a very perplexing character, and one very ambiguous one.
Also inter-cut with early footage of Armstrong denying rumours of doping, getting quietly angry at random drugs tests being carried out by the cycling authorities in front of his family at home, and post-race frankness into how he was feeling, are insights with Armstrong’s equally controversial and publicly illusive Italian doctor Michele Ferrari who likened the hormone EPO (erythropoietin) to ‘taking orange juice’.
Throughout viewing, what’s uglier than Armstrong’s contempt for some of those who where close to him is the fact that his delusion seems to stem from doping being widespread, almost common practice – and therefore not a problem – among professional cyclists. This is possibly a more fascinating and tougher investigation for any filmmaker.
For cycling fans, the film has lots of archive footage of racing to relive, especially the intriguing in-car conversations during the Tour de France that will enhance what they know of Armstrong and the cutthroat rules of the sport. For the rest of us, the film introduces us to one of the most alluring and complex public figures in sport who riles us while begrudgingly impresses us with his sheer determination to stay at the top. Gibney may not be as biting as in his previous work, possibly as there is a glimmer of marked respect for the sportsman. That said Gibney does not let him off the hook either. Do we ever get to know the real Lance Armstrong after this – does Gibney? The man still feels like an enigma.