Documentary filmmaking heavyweight Alex Gibney’s latest film, The Armstrong Lie, has been picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics, although whether this means a theatrical release has yet to be decided. One argument would say the American public is burned out on Lance Armstrong; another points out that 3.2 million tuned in to the initial airing of a cable broadcast on a channel (OWN) that is far from ubiquitous to see the now-ex Tour de France champion admit to charges of extensive and systematic cheating.
The documentary focuses on the last four years of Armstrong’s career and public image. In fact, it was originally intended to be an inspirational story of Armstrong’s attempted comeback at 37 years of age, well beyond the supposed prime for any professional athlete. “”We set out to make a movie about a comeback — with unlimited and unprecedented access to Armstrong and the inner-workings of the Tour de France,” said Frank Marshall and Matt Tolmach, both producers on the film. “Along the way, we ended up chronicling the collapse of one of the greatest myths and legends of our time.”
Armstrong, of course, won the Tour de France a record seven times consecutively, beginning with the 1999 race, after an against-the-odds comeback from late-stage testicular cancer. He vehemently denied allegations of blood doping for years until finally admitting his guilt in the face of overwhelming evidence from the US Anti-Doping Administration last year. He was stripped of all Tour victories, though due to the passing of a statute of limitations, he was not criminally prosecuted (his cycling team was sponsored by the US Postal Service for the majority of his Tour-winning years, and he’d previously testified to his innocence, which could have invited perjury charges).
The documentary, originally titled The Road Back, was directed by Alex Gibney, veteran of films such Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, and Freakonomics. Of the distribution deal, Gibney said, “I’m very proud of the final film, grateful for the support and skill of my fellow producers and the legendary distribution team at Sony Pictures Classic.”