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‘The Armstrong Lie’: The truth behind all of Lance’s fibbing


Sony Pictures Classics presents a documentary written and directed by Alex Gibney. Running time: 122 minutes. Rated R (for language). Opens Friday at Landmark Century and CineArts 6 in Evanston.

He’s been stripped of his Tour de France wins, of course, but Lance Armstrong is still a world-class champion when it comes to lying.

It’s one thing to know and understand that Armstrong lied about using steroids, drug transfusions and the like during his phenomenal cycling career. People do lie, after all, especially when they have major interests to protect. And in his case, it’s not exactly an earth-shattering revelation. Allegations about doping had been buzzing around him since 1999, when he won the first of his seven consecutive and utterly unprecedented Tour championships.

But it’s quite another to watch, in this exhaustively detailed documentary from Oscar winner Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”), as this inspirational figure, a hero to millions, looks straight into the camera during countless interviews and starkly, shamelessly denies the truth. Countless times. Year after year after year. Sometimes earnestly, sometimes belligerently, but always with the air of the beleaguered innocent. “I’m sorry for you,” he says to one questioner at a press conference. “I’m sorry you can’t dream big, that you can’t believe in miracles.”

You’d have to start looking into ancient Greek tragedy to top it as a showcase for pure, unadulterated hubris. That’s one of the things that makes “The Armstrong Lie,” which has more on its mind than the mere debunking of a tarnished hero, so worthwhile.

It’s a story about a man who could have retired rich, famous and revered, and risked everything to prove the truth of a lie. It’s a story about hero worship and the abuse of celebrity. It’s a story about the corrupted sport of cycling, so rife with doping that choosing not to dope would mean choosing not to compete. It’s a story about us: Why did we believe him for so long despite so much evidence to the contrary? It’s even a story about Gibney, who was also a believer when he signed on to make a film about Armstrong’s 2009 comeback Tour. One the cyclist intended to win clean, forever silencing his detractors — then couldn’t.

Mostly, though, it’s a story about a man who would do anything it took to win — and feels no apparent guilt about it.

“It’s very hard to conceal the truth forever,” Armstrong says to Gibney at one point in “The Armstrong Lie.” And he says it almost with a hint of pride at having succeeded for so very long.

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