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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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Charting Lance Armstrong's life-story (and given unprecedented access to both the Tour and the man), Gibney began filming in 2008 what he initially envisioned as the ultimate comeback story - Armstrong's return from his 2005 retirement and his attempt to win his eighth Tour. Indeed, more than just an athlete, Armstrong, through his inspiring personal narrative and charitable works, had come to embody nothing short of the possibilities of the human spirit itself. An unprecedented scandal, however, would rewrite both the Armstrong legend and Gibney's film. By early 2013, Armstrong had admitted to using performance enhancing drugs following a federal criminal investigation and an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency (in 2012 the USADA, in conjunction with the International Cycling Union, effectively stripped Armstrong of all seven of his previous titles and banned him from all sport for life).

Review by Louise Keller:
Filmmaker Alex Gibney's gripping documentary is a breathtaking expose, not only of cyclist Lance Armstrong as a drug cheat, but one that explores deep into the culture of the sport of cycling and its intrinsic doping problems. I suppose Armstrong's determination to win at any cost must be admired on some level - especially his victory in his battle with cancer - but it is the audacity and arrogance of the man himself that sticks and grates. A handsome man with chiselled features (think Aaron Eckhart), Armstrong appears unremorseful, while his actions reveal him to be a revengeful, vindictive man obsessed by his power and celebrity. While we can despise his deceit and moral corruptness, there is something fascinating about the complexity of this story, including the fact that his work raising $300 million for cancer sufferers appears genuine.

The story is far richer and more complex than expected as it juxtaposes the premise of the wronged hero with that of the fallen cheat. Gibney's original intention when he set out to make the film in 2009, was to explore Armstrong's comeback following his four-year retirement and triumph over cancer after his seven Tour de France yellow jersey wins. Gibney, who provides voice over commentary and appears in the film as interviewer admits he was also a fan, caught up in the hype surrounding Armstrong, until everything turned sour for the cycling superman. TV queen Oprah's interview in 2013 (shown at the beginning of the film), in which Armstrong finally admits his guilt despite his former denials, changes the direction of the film. Yet Gibney's film does not address all the questions, despite details revealed from former teammates and engrossing lengthy sequence in which we watch Armstrong participate in the gruelling and thrilling stages of the 2009 Tour de France.

The scientific facts that explain how the performance-enhancing drug EPO and blood transfusions work to provide more oxygen to muscles is fascinating, as is the code of silence shared by the entire cycling world. But the film falls short of providing any real insight into why Armstrong decided to come clean now. There are also still unanswered questions as to whether or not Armstrong has now told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or whether his assertions that he was clean during the 2009 race are lies. Why should we believe him now? Redemption is certainly not on his wish list. It might be a little long, but this follow up to Gibney's We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks is well worth seeing, providing a front seat view of a scandalous tale whose elements defy belief.

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(US, 2013)

CAST: Documentary

PRODUCER: Alex Gibney, Frank Marshall, Matthew Tolmach

DIRECTOR: Alex Gibney

SCRIPT: Alex Gibney


EDITOR: Andy Grieve, Lindy Jankura, Tim Squyers

RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes



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