Tour De Pharmaceuticals
Lance Armstrong is no ordinary man. I don’t mean the years of apparent wins in cycling competitions all around the world, just moments into Alex Gibney’s latest journalistic investigation tour that is ‘The Armstrong Lie’, looking into Lance’s eyes, what is it you see? Or more so, what you don’t see. It certainly seems that balanced reason was removed in one of the red cell enhancing blood transfusions.
Gibney has a exemplary list of very credible documentaries on his CV at this stage. In 2008 he nearly tarnished that talent when he took up the subject of covering Lance Armstrong who had decided to come back to the world of professional cycling tournaments, having seemingly retired after ‘winning’ the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times. If it had been themed to a pulp fiction novel, and looking at it now, Armstrong’s decision had all the echoes of one last heist.
After the admission of a career of drug taking enhance performances, and subsequently question anything/everything Lance had ever done, the originally planned ‘come back’ movie (criticised by many as a proposed puff piece) was thankfully scrapped, and the resulting documentary is a much more interesting work, never mind realistic.
Whether you are interested in the world of cycling or not, this excellent documentary is just as much a critique of the world of the celebrity status and the adulation by the many. The main protagonist and sport could easily be swapped for another discipline, but the blind faith of many, remains the same. It was such blind faith (and a huge amount of connections) that protected Lance whilst all around him 88 other cyclists in one tour were disqualified for taking banned substances. But there was a great deal of money to be made out of this man who fought with death (cancer) and won, and everyone wanted to be part of the cash in.
The film delves into Lances upbringing by a single parent, and it’s clear his almost maniacal drive (anger) was birthed in these years supporting his struggling mum, where losing equated to death in his mind. Strangely enough, his temporary brush with death when he was being treated for cancer, was the very thing that enabled his future cycling team Dr. ’Dr. Frankenstein’ Michele Ferrari to effectively rebuild his ravaged body into the form of the near perfect cycling machine. With copious amounts of added substances/treatments to help him along the way.
It was also Ferrari’s connections in world of doping labs that kept him informed of the latest developments, and proposed busts, enabling to always stay one wheel ahead.
The richness of the film comes in many forms. Whereas Gibney’s previous Wikileaks piece suffered from the main protagonists absence, Lance has huge presence in this work. We see many angles too. At his seemingly most humane whilst meeting children with cancer, to the victims of his take no prisoners mentality when confronting folk he saw as adversaries, or threaten his position in any way.
There are contributions from many individuals who were around throughout this long time line, supporters and critics alike. And it’s all contained in a succinct understanding of the history of the Tour de France. Added into the mix a veritable science class of information about the somewhat outlandish practices that went on (and possibly still does), and the result is very rewarding viewing indeed, where despite all the dreadful things you’ve learnt, you still find yourself routing for Lance at times. It really does make you wonder about the world we live in.
’The Armstrong Lie’ is out now.