Rubino: Recycled Lance Armstrong film documents hubris on epic scale

  • FILE - In this July 28, 2006 file photo, Lance Armstrong testifies during a U.S. Senate field hearing on cancer research and funding in Iowa City, Iowa. Armstrong is facing a Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 deadline to decide whether he will meet with U.S. Anti-Doping Agency officials and talk with them under oath about what he knows about performance-enhancing drug use in cycling. The agency has said Armstrong's cooperation in its cleanup effort is the only path open to Armstrong if his lifetime ban from sports it to be reduced.(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

And while the film tells a compelling story in a strong, straightforward fashion, with some vividly colorful shots of world-class cyclists racing in stunning locales (including footage of Tour of California competition in Sonoma County) past cheering fans, and there's a nod to a few dogged sports writers (Daniel Coyle, David Walsh, Paul Kimmage) whose journalistic instincts told them from the get-go that Armstrong's story was too good to be true, "The Armstrong Lie" is ultimately a bit shopworn. Recycled.

There's a reason for this.

Alex Gibney, the award-winning filmmaker whose previous work includes unnerving investigations into business greed ("Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room") and immoral abuse of military and political power ("Taxi To The Dark Side") was an admitted Armstrong fan whose original idea for a cycling documentary was going to be an inspirational comeback story as Armstrong, at 37, in 2009 ended a three-year "retirement" and attempted to win the Tour de France for an eighth time.

As the '09 Tour progressed and it became clear that Armstrong (who claimed this time he was racing "clean") isn't going to win, Gibney and Armstrong joke on camera about the movie being "ruined."

But then Armstrong, ever the competitor, says that all things considered (his age, the three-year layoff), a third-place finish (and therefore a spot on the podium) would nevertheless be remarkable and Gibney agrees it would still make for a stirring film. Late in the race, when it looks like Armstrong will finish fourth, without a spot on the podium, the back-and-forth joking about ruining the movie is repeated, but with considerably more mutual frustration and less bonhomie. When Armstrong does finish third, it's unclear whether it was done through skill, contrivance, tried-and-true doping or a combination thereof. After the 2009 Tour, when the doping accusations began to gain serious traction, Gibney abandoned his film project. After Armstrong's appearance on "Oprah," he knew he had a movie after all, albeit an entirely different one.

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