Rated R. Running time: 2 hour 4 min.
Our Advisories: Violence 0; Language -3; Sex/Nudity –1.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
If you liked the popular American Hustle, you will want to catch Alex Gibney’s take on the man who perhaps is the sports world’s greatest con artist, Lance Armstrong. (Gibney’s other two documentaries That I have reviewed are also top-notch–Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side)
The filmmaker started out to make an inspirational film on what seemed to be the greatest come back of the century—from cancer victim to biking champion—but shelved the film when charges that the athlete had been doping grew from whispers into a crescendo that no longer could be ignored. After Armstrong’s confession to Ophra Winfrey, the filmmaker added fresh material, resulting in a cautionary film supporting that old saying, “If it seems too good to be true—Armstrong’s incredible feats against all odds—then it probably isn’t.”
Going into great detail, Gibney offers a fascinating tale of a complex man whose wonderful charity work was based on deception. We see a consummate actor able to dupe all of the great TV interviewers (among them Larry King) into accepting his vehement denials that he had not been doping. The charges included his use of EPO, testosterone, human growth hormone, cortisone and blood transfusions to boost his performance. Italian doctor, Michele Ferrari was a co-conspirator through the years, helping Armstrong in numerous ways evade the rules of the ICU (International Cycling Union). During one race the elaborate scheme involved having the driver of the team bus break down along the roadside so that Armstrong and others could undergo energy-enhancing blood transfusions—and right outside was the crowd!
Some of Armstrong’s team members revealed the truth, but the trust in Armstrong was so great, and his attack on his former friends so strong, that their testimonies were dismissed. The ICU officials, selling out to the cult of competition and winning, looked the other way.
it provides much to think about and discuss on ethical issues.
There is great irony in that it was Armstrong’s attempt to come back in 2009 after retiring that led to his downfall. The details are fascinating, the result being a study in character and ethics. A gifted athlete, believing that “everyone does it,” decides that if he also resorts to using banned substances, he is merely leveling the playing field, not cheating. But, as some in the film point out, the cheating is not the worst of his crimes, nor even lying to the media and officials—the almost unforgivable sin is his vicious attack on his teammates, thus destroying their careers and reputations. One of the persons interviewed observes, “This is not a story about doping; it’s a story about power,” It is indeed, a story of the abuse of power!