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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: The Armstrong Lie


"It's hard to conceal the truth forever. This has been my downfall"
 Usain Bolt. Lionel Messi. Michael Phelps. Tiger Woods. Roger Federer. Lance Armstrong. We are a blessed generation. We got to witness some of the finest athletes of all time at the peak of their powers. We also got to witness the greatest fall from grace in the history of sport. Step in 'The Armstrong Lie', a piece of work  originally devised in 2009 to document Armstrong's return from retirement. As the doping allegations levelled against Armstrong slowly gained credibility, it was put on the back burner and redeveloped to highlight the sins of the man. What would originally have been a puff piece became the best work to destroy the myth.

Credit to Alex Gibney for highlighting one of the greater sins we have committed as a people: Getting so caught up in the fairytale that we forget to ask the questions that need asking.  There's evidence to suggest the UCI, the cycling regulatory body corroborated with him and this tears at the credibility of the sport. That's not to say, Mr Armstrong didn't do a great job in coercing this sense of fandom out of us. The allure of Lance lay in his story. Like Steve Jobs who was able to develop a cult through his personality, Armstrong built a bubble that sold yellow wrist bands and inspired millions. The idea of the cancer survivor recovering to win all those laurels appealed to our sensitivities. He reached rock star status as one sees him hobnob with political royalty like Bill Clinton and Michael Bloomberg. He inspired a generation to ride bicycles, a fact he's aware of when he details the figures of bicycles sold over the time span of his success. Having no male influence(He never knew his father) helps explain his rebellious streak. It is reported that "You are not my father" was his constant retort to what he saw as people seeking to make him conform.

This is a story about power, hubris, and the quest for the truth. There are appearances by some of the most significant whistle blowers in old friends like Betsy & Frankie Andreu and Sunday Times journalist, David Walsh. There's also a great portion dedicated to disgraced Doctor, Michele Ferrari who was the brain behind the cheating operation. Using flashbacks from the original 2009 film was also a brilliant idea as we get to see the evolution of the story.

The picture isn't pretty. His desire to dominate meant that he had no inhibitions. He describes it as a defense mechanism but that does him no favours as we see the impact this had on his relationships. It's also this urge to dominate that brought him back to earth. Coming back in 2009, at a time when Anti Doping procedures were more stringent laid the foundation of his downfall. He claims to have run that tour clean but scientific measures cast doubts to the validity of this. If you're looking for an apology, turn away now. His premise that "Everyone was doing it" encapsulates the toxicity of the sport.

 As hard as it may seem, Armstrong emerges with some credit. For one, the greatness of his work through Live Strong is undeniable. There's a very stirring scene showing old footage of him paying some kids dealing with cancer a hospital visit and it's the only time he shows the mildest form of emotion. 'The Armstrong Lie' finds him at his most honest. When he appeared on Oprah last year, the general feeling was one of disappointment as he had been closed, bowing to legal pressure. Here, he's more open in providing insight into the doping culture prevalent in Cycling. There's a bit that focuses on Blood spinning- taking blood out of one's body and reinjecting it afterwards to add more red blood cells in a bid to quicken recovery and oxygen retention. It was also designed to bypass doping rules by introducing a banned substance like EPO into the athlete's system.

Verdict: Must Watch!

The Armstrong Lie (running time 123m 30s) directed by Alex Gibney, is set for release on the 31st of January 2014.



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