SBD/November 8, 2013/Media

Sony Pictures' "The Armstrong Lie" Hits Select Theaters To Relatively Positive Reviews

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Sony Pictures Classics' "The Armstrong Lie," a documentary about Lance Armstrong's PED usage and subsequent fall from grace, opens in select cities on Friday, and it is an "enthralling, clear-eyed and penetrating examination not only of a fallen hero, but of drive, moral relativism and the cult of personality," according to Claudia Puig of USA TODAY, who gives the film three-and-a-half stars. The film was directed by Alex Gibney, and stars Armstrong, Wall Street Journal reporter Reed Albergotti and Betsy Andreu, the wife of Armstrong’s former friend and teammate, Frankie Andreu. Armstrong's "galling hubris is all there for audiences to watch, absorb and puzzle over" in the film. Gibney in the documentary incorporates footage and interviews from '08-09, as well as "more recent comments from fellow bicyclists, allegations by others who knew him" (USA TODAY, 11/8). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Vanessa O'Connell conducted an interview with Gibney to discuss the project, and he said of how he originally was going to handle the doping topic, "My film was completed in late 2010 or early 2011. I was happy with it. But the more stuff came out, the more un-releasable it seemed. ... At some point, it seemed silly. In the wake of the federal investigation, being artful (about the doping issue) seemed silly" (WSJ.com, 11/7).

NO BOMBSHELL REVELATIONS: ROLLING STONE's Katie Van Syckle wrote, "Although the documentary focuses less on groundbreaking scoops and more on the psychology of deceit, Gibney offers a comprehensive view of a long brewing scandal, and the corrosive power of win-at-all-costs ambition." Van Syckle chronicled the film's "10 juiciest moments" (ROLLINGSTONE.com, 11/7). In L.A., Kenneth Turan writes the documentary is a "thorough and engrossing investigation that manages to smoothly integrate footage shot for the earlier work into a very different framework." It is "at its best when it deals with the linked questions of why Armstrong decided on the comeback, a move that triggered his downfall, and why he engaged in deception for so long" (L.A. TIMES, 11/8). In N.Y., Stephen Holden writes the film is "absorbing but overlong." Instead of "bombshell revelations, of which there are none, 'The Armstrong Lie' offers a thorough history of ... Armstrong’s cycling career and the elaborate measures he took to cover his tracks." The documentary is a "reminder that celebrity and hero worship, once attained, are almost irresistibly addictive." For all of Armstrong's "gifts and hard work," he "emerges as a hollow man, corrupted by glory, protecting what remains of his reputation" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/8).

LENGTH QUESTIONS: In Austin, Pam LeBlanc wrote the film "feels a little disjointed at times and needs to be shortened by about 30 minutes." Still, it is a "well-executed synopsis of a whopper of a fall-from-grace story" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 11/7). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Joe Morgenstern writes "The Armstrong Lie" is a "tale of ambition that's almost mad enough to be mythic." But it "wears thin before it's over; the wafer-thin nature of the cyclist's personality can't sustain a two-hour running time" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 11/8). NPR's Ella Taylor wrote the documentary is "fast-paced, aggressively stylized, and juiced by a driving score." Not "too deeply buried in the press notes is the casual but staggering disclosure that Armstrong would have taken a cut of the movie's returns in return for 'unprecedented' access." Taylor: "For all I know, he still will -- and paying your subject is certainly no way to make a documentary." The documentary is "rarely boring," but it is "more illuminating about the corrupt sports industry than it is about its subject" (NPR.org, 11/7).
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