Review: The Armstrong Lie

02.6.2014 | 10:36 am

NewImageThe Armstrong Lie is a documentary about Lance Armstrong. Unfortunately, Alex Gibney—the producer and/or director (I don’t know the difference and can’t be bothered to look it up) gave away the surprise revelation of the documentary right in the title: that Lance Armstrong lied. And probably continues to lie.

So the big question is, if you start making a documentary lionizing a guy and he turns out to have been lying to you (along with pretty much everyone else) and you try to salvage the documentary by flipping its thesis on its ear and adding a couple of interviews with the guy who was — and possibly is still –lying to you (along with, as I mentioned, pretty much everyone else) in the first place, do you have a compelling story to tell?

That is the question I’ll try to answer in this review.

But first—before we even begin talking about the documentary itself–there are some mysteries that need solving.

A Big Stack and a Big Rack

The Armstrong Lie comes out on DVD on February 11, but you can buy it and stream it on right now. Which is what I did.

And there were a couple of very strange things about the order page.

First of all, if you buy the DVD version, you apparently get a lot of DVDs:


Thirty discs? What could be on thirty discs? Every single foot of footage? The most-recent backup of Gibney’s hard drive? 29 additional copies of the movie for you to give to your friends? Promotional AOL membership discs from 1993?

Or — and it is my fervent hope that this is the  case — perhaps discs 2-30 contain sixty hours of hilarious outtakes and bloopers. Because that would make for both a lot of entertaining viewing and a large enough coaster set for a pretty good-sized party.

Next comes the description of the video, which shows that someone wasn’t even trying when they were filling out this particular part of the form:


“Chronicles Armstrong’s attempt to win the 2009 Tour de France?” Really? That’s the description of this 2+hour movie you’re going with?

Spoiler alert: he doesn’t win, and that’s not really what this documentary is about.

Even weirder than that, though, is the cover of the DVD case. Sure, there’s the big image, where it looks like Lance is looking (in shock and dismay) at the text that shows that this video attended the Venice and Toronto film festivals.

But then there’s the shot of Lance on his bike:


I swear on my life that I did not Photoshop this. This is the actual shot on the actual DVD case image on Amazon. And it looks like Lance has a medium-sized gut and the largest man-boobs ever seen on a professional cyclist. 

To wit, it looks like someone Photoshopped Armstrong’s head onto my body.

Justify Yourself

OK, now on with the review. Kind of.

When I told The Hammer we were going to watch this documentary so I could review it for my site, she—initially—seemed fine with the idea.

But then the documentary started, beginning with Armstrong talking, just moments after his Oprah interview. And The Hammer said, “I’m not that interested in watching him tell more lies. Is that all this is going to be?”

At which point I paused the movie and told her the premise of this documentary. That, basically, Gibney originally set out to make a documentary about Armstrong’s comeback in 2009. Then, when Armstrong’s falseness was revealed, Gibney instead combined his original footage with new interviews with Armstrong and people who had a part in his undoing: Betsy and Frankie Andreu, Coyle, Walsh, Hincapie, and others.

“Do we learn anything new in this documentary?” The Hammer asked.

I told her that I didn’t know for sure, but from what I had read, didn’t think so. What we’d do, I thought, was get a better sense of the people involved. 

And so The Hammer sat down with me, watching, skeptically, while I watched and typed notes.

Then, after a while, she started playing Candy Crush on her phone, so she wouldn’t fall asleep. 

Then, with about 45 minutes left in the documentary, she left to go do something else.

Because, when it comes down to it, this documentary doesn’t reveal much in the “whodunnit” sense (we already know all that), nor in the “why’d he do it?” sense (Tyler explained that part much, much better). The fact is, if there’s a single defining characteristic of Lance Armstrong, it’s self-discipline. He’s going to stay on-message; the only difference is that the message has changed, somewhat. We’re not going to get a Perry Mason moment from Lance.

And most everyone in the documentary is about the same. They have a point to drive home (Lance is a doper and a bully), and they’re going to drive that point home, come hell or high water. If you come looking for the pathos behind it—which is what I was looking for–you’ll need to look elsewhere.

The exception to this is Betsy Andreu: she comes across as both forceful and forthright. Her motivation feels real and complex: anger at betrayal, a desire to protect her husband, indignation at unfairness. And her time on the screen — more than anyone else’s — feels straightforward and unfiltered. 

Salvage Attempt

The backstory to this documentary is pretty interesting: Gibney started a documentary intended to showcase Armstrong’s return to racing — then resurrected it as a movie about Lance’s career in deception.

The problem with the movie is that Gibney tries to have the movie do too many things. He seems to have been too much in love with all the race footage he captured during the 2009 Tour de France, and recaps almost the entirety of the race. Very little of which has much — if anything — to do with his new subject matter (doping and deception). As a result, a documentary that should have been about eighty minutes long — tops — comes in at 124 minutes. 

Gibney tries to tie the huge amount of 2009 TdF race footage to a question: was Armstrong racing clean — as he insists he was — during this tour?

Here’s the problem with this question: the documentary doesn’t really give me much of a reason to care about the answer. You’ve got a guy who’s doped for his entire career and — until recently — gotten away with it. Now he says he raced clean when he came back in 2009. Why believe him? 

And more importantly, why care? Either he was doping and got beat by another doper (the presumption I’m going with), or he wasn’t doping and got beat by a doper, which happens all the time and is in no way remarkable. Either way, this documentary doesn’t give me a compelling reason to care.  

Summing up, The Armstrong Lie suffers from a similar problem Armstrong correctly observed about his interview with Oprah: for people who know about Lance already, it’s too little insight. For those who don’t, it’s too much detail. And for everyone, it’s too long. 

And in truth, If I didn’t have an ulterior motive — writing this review — I wouldn’t have finished The Armstrong Lie

Though I reserve the right to revise this opinion after watching all 30 of the DVDs that should be arriving at my home soon.


  1. Comment by Paul Guyot | 02.6.2014 | 10:50 am

    Okay, when I saw you were talking about him again, I went “Nooooo!” I don’t want to hear about him anymore. It’s tired and boring and old.

    Then I read your piece.

    Never, ever doubt Fatty.

    You made me laugh, four times, actually, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    So, here is a new rule for our society as of today….

    ONLY Fatty is allowed to talk or write about Armstrong. No one else is allowed. Ever.

    This is a very good review of my review.
    PS: The above is my review of your review of my review.
    - FC

  2. Comment by Darren | 02.6.2014 | 11:11 am

    I concur with Paul. I like many others was an Armstrong supporter. I feel however I was in the minority. I never once believed that he wasn’t doping. I have followed professional cycling for too long to believe that he was Superman riding on Earth being powered by our yellow sun, while all others had Kryptonite mixed into their Gatorade. To the extent that when asked if I believed he was clean, I would give my typical lawyer-like answer. ” He never tested positive while in competition.” Only to find out that was also a cover up. Sorry for rambling…see what you started Fatty!!!

  3. Comment by Jim Tolar | 02.6.2014 | 11:23 am


    You’ve taken the high road on this from the get-go, which I much admire. Here’s to hoping this is the last time you’ll have to cover LanceNews in your blog.


    p.s. I sent you an e-mail (to the contact address) regarding 100MoN details that would help my 100MtN(DR Edition) planning. In case you don’t check that address frequently, would you now? Thanks.

  4. Comment by Chuck | 02.6.2014 | 11:32 am

    Nice work. Hard to imagine what a Lance outtake would look like. Interesting to see people still trying to make money off of this tired story.

  5. Comment by Bykjunkie | 02.6.2014 | 12:21 pm

    Great review. I’m with ya on the why care but I’ll probably watch it anyway.
    I remember something about you getting a rock and roll trainer? Any comments or review on that? Mine just broke and I’m researching new ones.

  6. Comment by Skippy | 02.6.2014 | 12:28 pm

    Perhaps another couple of decades will pass before , we, the public , are allowed the TRUTH ?

    Your previous post featured on :

  7. Comment by TominAlbany | 02.6.2014 | 12:47 pm


    Just a comment on your review of Paul’s review of your review of the movie. Isn’t the P.S. supposed to go AFTER the signature? Otherwise, it’s just a continuation of the original note.


    p.s. Is this a review of your review of Paul’s review of your review of the awful movie you watched?

  8. Comment by TominAlbany | 02.6.2014 | 12:48 pm

    p.p.s. Hammer’s review was much more succinct!

  9. Comment by roderick | 02.6.2014 | 1:29 pm

    Fatty, Can I have disk #16 after your done with it?
    Great review!

  10. Comment by Centurion | 02.6.2014 | 1:40 pm

    My wife plays Candy Crush on her iPad.
    That’s about as interesting as LA, or movies, or reviews of movies, about him.

  11. Comment by MC | 02.6.2014 | 2:00 pm

    Uhm, why does it say “Sony Pictures Classics” in the upper right corner? How can they possibly compare this to, say, Gone with the wind, or Star Wars, or The Magnificent Seven, or The Outlaw Josey Wales, or 2001 a Space Odyssey, or The Attack of the Killer Tomatos, or Monty Python’s The Quest for the Holy Grail (the Bestest of the classics IMO)??

    Sorry Sony, I don’t buy it (nor will I).


  12. Comment by NancyJBS | 02.6.2014 | 2:06 pm

    Glad to see another one of your hilarious AND insightful (or should it be called “inciteful” given the subject manner?) reviews again.

    My favorite part is the analysis of the photo on the cover:

    “To wit, it looks like someone Photoshopped Armstrong’s head onto my body.”


  13. Comment by Christina | 02.6.2014 | 5:14 pm

    I’m so excited The Hammer plays Candy Crush. It gives me hope that someday I might be a super human athlete.

    MAN BOOBS! I’ve only once had Armstrong ride past me quickly on RAGBRAI, but I now know what to yell at him if he ever passes me again. MOOOOOOOOBBBBBSSSS!!!

    I’m not nearly as classy as Fatty.

  14. Comment by Jeff Bike | 02.6.2014 | 5:31 pm

    @Darren, Well said, ditto.
    @MC, If I watch this “will I dream?”

    Fatty, your years of endurance cycling have made you a very strong man. To be able to sit through 2 hours of that! I am amazed. Well written review.

  15. Comment by VA Biker | 02.6.2014 | 5:46 pm

    Thanks for the review. When I first saw the DVD cover, I thought for moment that I might want to see it. After reading the review, there’s no way. I’m almost completely disengaged from pro cycling these days, which is amszing since I was so mesmerized by it in the ’80’s, ’90’s, and aughts of the 21st Century. No mas. I’d rather just ride my bike with friends than devote time to it.

  16. Comment by Doug (Way Upstate NY) | 02.6.2014 | 8:21 pm

    @MC, this movie is clearly an “instant classic”.

  17. Comment by Jarral | 02.6.2014 | 8:59 pm

    I hope at least after suffering through it, you can write off the cost as a “business expense”

  18. Comment by roan | 02.6.2014 | 9:24 pm

    My first thought, an original, (scratch that, never had one)…where have I been ? Jan, Feb, March then APRIL ! Nope wake up ! But so ‘fitting’ you were Photoshopped, therein lies the classics.
    Thirty disc version, maybe each one has a different ending. Please review all and get back to us on Monday, please, please, please. No, maybe one a week…er…one a month ? What you are shaking your head? OK, one a year. Providing your DVD player still works. Quick question, Just how long was the Blu-ray version ?

  19. Comment by leroy | 02.6.2014 | 10:53 pm

    Well that’s odd. Why would anyone dedicate the Long Island Expressway to Lance Armstrong?

    I guess I shouldn’t have bet dog on that. But he was giving such good odds.

  20. Comment by Bozidar | 02.7.2014 | 2:17 am

    A great choice by Hammer to leave the show early. I am shocked that there are still people trying to milk the Lance Armstrong topic in one way or another.

  21. Comment by Al | 02.7.2014 | 5:37 am

    Nice review Fatty.

    I went to my local theatre to watch this last night with a friend who really wanted to see it. I confess I dozed at two different points in the movie. It has nothing new in it at all and I agree – Tyler’s book was much more interesting (if that’s the right word).

    What I *did* get out of it I suppose – you can tell I’m trying here, right? – was a real sense that 2009 was a long long time ago. Which feels good, actually. And I was glad to see Betsy.

    Fair play to Gibney for trying to get something out of his effort but it’s probably only worth letting this movie disturb your sleep if you’re going out of friendship. But get your friend to buy the popcorn….

  22. Comment by fuzzy | 02.7.2014 | 8:44 am


    Don’t be offended but, I WILL go and watch this film (or rent/ buy the DVD/ Blu-ray) as I have really enjoyed many a movie panned by the critics.

    If however, I discover that the film can best be described as toilet, I will report back, just so you can say ‘I told you so’

    Luv ‘n Stuff
    Fuzzy from the UK

    I am very SHOCKED. And OFFENDED. – FC

  23. Comment by Brian in VA | 02.7.2014 | 9:56 am

    I was going to watch this while riding my trainer. Perhaps it’s even too boring for that. Wow! Maybe re-runs of Gilligan’s Island is a better idea, after all.

    Thanks for taking one for the team, Fatty!

    Honestly, it’s not trainer material. It’s slow and sad; you’d have a hard time keeping your heart rate up, I guarantee it. – FC

  24. Comment by Bicycle Bill | 02.7.2014 | 10:44 am

    I still feel that, while what Armstrong admitted to doing was detestable, the punishment did not fit the offense.  No other riders — not those involved in the Festina scandal of 1998; not Tyler Hamilton, who lost his Tour title in 2004 when he tested positive but vehemently denied it for over a year to the extent of establishing and soliciting his fans to support a “defense fund” before finally admitting his transgression; not those involved in the Operación Puerto investigation in 2006; not even the other riders with the Postal team that supposedly were doping right along with Armstrong (and reaping the benefits of being the #1 team throughout that period) — had results stripped going back over a ten-year period or received a permanent ban from the sport.  In fact, quite the opposite — several of those who rolled over to provide “evidence” or testimony about Armstrong received *LESS* than the normal two-year ban from competition.

    But, ever since he went on Oprah a year ago, it’s been “pile on Lance” time.  It’s only 2014, but I’m sure he’s got to be in anybody’s Top Ten List of the most-hated people of the century.

    So unless I can get a copy of this disc as a free loan through my public library to satisfy my curiosity as to how a documentarist turns a puff piece into a hatchet job, I won’t even waste my time on this film, let alone my money.

    Now, give me a minute to pull up my asbestos underwear and then let the flames begin.


  25. Comment by MC | 02.7.2014 | 11:39 am

    Hey BB, I won’t do any piling on…in fact, I’ll let the little ‘other guy’ on my shoulder give his take: The lifetime ban revolves mostly around (and I quote): “a systemic, sustained and highly professionalized team-run doping conspiracy”.

    Uhm, well, (and I’m only guessing here), isn’t that EXACTLY what EVERY OTHER DOPING TEAM/ATHLETE was doing? It’s not like they were slinking around dark alleys looking for some EPO/HGH from some dealer in the hood, and buying a one-time ‘fix’. Anybody who was doping at the elite cycling level OBVIOUSLY had their own systematic sustained highly professionalized doping conspiracy going on. Well, maybe except for Rico (who almost died from taking the wrong blood). But other than him, same same.

    IMO, the lifetime ban was becasue of his bullying, though I don’t think they came out and admitted that in the resoned decision. Had he just done the doping and shut the hell up and let people talk w/out taking them to court/crushing them any way he could, maybe he wouldn’t be in the fix it’s in now. Just my 2 cents worth in a devil’s advocate sort of way. OK…I’m w/ BB…bring it.

  26. Comment by Christina | 02.7.2014 | 12:49 pm

    I think it’s the trying to crush his opponents thing that gets me. It was the same with Floyd Landis…he fought and was an ass and now he has no team, even though he isn’t banned. Take Lance’s ban off. I don’t think he’ll ride again.

  27. Comment by Clydesteve | 02.7.2014 | 1:36 pm

    Wait – what? AOL was still doing “Promotional AOL membership discs from 1993? in 1993?

    You know what makes this really funny? My 88-y-o Mom still does AOL.

  28. Comment by Clydesteve | 02.7.2014 | 1:39 pm

    I am with you, Fatty – the most compelling thing here is the 30-disc set of DVDs. I sincerely hope the answer to this mystery is not something boring, like: typo – should have said 3. I hope there really are 30, and the contents are particularly absurd.

  29. Comment by old guy who likes to ride | 02.7.2014 | 6:16 pm

    at any place does the DVD cover text state “hi-jinks ensue when…”

    that phrase is always a good quality barometer…

    enjoy the weekend everybody, we finally got rain in northern California.

  30. Comment by UpTheGrade, SR, CA | 02.7.2014 | 8:19 pm

    Now that you’ve watched the movie, don’t forget to recycle the discs

  31. Comment by Guest | 02.8.2014 | 1:43 pm

    Good review of a bad to mediocre movie. Mostly, I felt it was way too sympathetic towards Lance. I don’t the film maker would agree on that, I think he would say he was tough on Lance. But really, he wasn’t, at least no in my opinion.

  32. Comment by Guest | 02.8.2014 | 1:48 pm

    “But, ever since he went on Oprah a year ago, it’s been “pile on Lance” time.”

    That’s exactly the point, people pile on because HE went on Oprah, and not to USADA / WADA or USDA. At least the other riders went in and admitted something to USADA under oath. Lance still hasn’t admitted anything under oath. Nor offered up any information to help fight doping in the future. He was offered a chance to talk, he didn’t take it. Lifetime it is.

  33. Comment by Carl | 02.8.2014 | 6:08 pm

    Thank you for saving me 124 minutes of what is left of my life… and the chuckles.

  34. Comment by Tristan | 02.8.2014 | 10:08 pm

    Loved this review. I’ll skip the video as I’m sure your review was more entertaining and enlightening then the product being reviwed!

  35. Comment by Bicycle Bill | 02.9.2014 | 10:21 am

    Just thought I’d mention, Tristan, that address ( and the link in your name goes nowhere.


  36. Comment by Jorge | 02.10.2014 | 11:12 am

    From 9/25/2008 Fatty said, “As soon as I get home tonight, I’m going to steam the decals of my Fillmore”.

    I hope that you put the decals back on the Fillmore after watching the movie.

  37. Comment by Anonymous | 03.11.2014 | 7:16 pm

    The others didn’t cruelly malign the reputation of persons close to them in an effort to cover up their guilt. He took “low-class” to a new level…or…lower level.


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