The Anatomy of a Lie
Alex Gibney dissects Lance Armstrong's doping scandal in new documentary
Alex Gibney had an entire documentary about the great Lance Armstrong comeback tour of 2009 readied for release when news broke that the U.S. Attorney's Office would launch a federal criminal investigation into whether the seven-time Tour de France winner had ever competed under the influence of performance-enhancing drugs.
"Suddenly that put the whole thing in a completely different light," Gibney says. "When there's a grand jury criminal investigation, that'll give you great pause."
So Gibney, the 60-year-old director whose name you know from 2005's Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and 2007's Taxi to the Dark Side, among others, went back to the drawing board, changing scope, reinterviewing certain subjects, and seeking out interviews from individuals who previously weren't central to the story. The result is The Armstrong Lie, a 122-minute examination of the local cyclist's entire history with doping and his exceedingly lengthy insistence that said history was nonexistent. Still set largely during the 2009 Tour, but now centering around Armstrong's entire experience using PEDs and relationship with Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, the film stands as an exhaustive examination of one man's greed gone wild.
"I interviewed [former teammate] George Hincapie for the first film, and that interview was a lot different the second time around," Gibney explains. "I interviewed [Jonathan] Vaughters, who wouldn't talk to me the first time. And I had not interviewed Betsy [Andreu, the wife of former teammate Frankie Andreu, and a public skeptic of Armstrong]. Both of her interviews were done for the second film.
"I interviewed Frankie for the first film because he was covering the 2009 tour. That's an interesting interview, because there's a piece of that interview that relates to the doping that's in the original film. I asked Frankie: 'In 1999, was there a team doping program?' Frankie pauses, and he pauses, and he pauses. Then he says, 'I don't want to talk about all that.' That was his way of answering back then ... of saying yes without saying, 'Yes.' That was as far as we could go."
Back then, Gibney was hailing his film as "the ultimate comeback story." Now he sums it up with other words.
"The anatomy of a lie," he says. "It's not a story about doping; it's a story about power. It's about how Lance used the power of his story to make himself very wealthy and abuse the trust of people and attack people who were trying to tell the truth. That goes beyond cycling. I remain an admirer of Lance as an athlete, but I don't admire what he did to other people as he protected his lie."