The best sports films are less about sport than sportspeople. As the calibre of filmmakers – J.J. Abrams, Stephen Frears, Jay Roach – also planning movies about Lance Armstrong suggests, Alex Gibney’s documentary has a corker in cycling’s fallen angel.
It might have been good enough had Gibney made his proposed celebration of the seven-times Tour de France winner, cancer survivor and charity hero’s comeback in 2009. Then Armstrong, after years of denial, got busted for using performance-enhancing drugs, confessed on Oprah and opened a bigger can of worms.
Gibney’s past-mastery at exposing lies (Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, Mea Maxima Culpa) tells us he’s the man to do that probing. With lucid rigour and impressive access to the key players, he rounds up Armstrong’s teammates, critics, competitors, sports doctor and friends to anatomise the power conflicts, cover-ups and science pertaining to ‘doping’ in cycling.
A master docu-maker gets the inside dope on a master dissembler. It requires stamina, but its charismatic subject exerts genuine magnetism.