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Film review: ‘The Armstrong Lie’

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What began as a feel-good doc about Lance Armstrong became … this.

Three stars

The Armstrong Lie Directed by Alex Gibney. Rated R. Now playing.

Documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney has tackled a lot of serious, consequential topics (Enron, WikiLeaks, sexual abuse by Catholic priests), so it’s not surprising that in 2009 he wanted to take a break and make a feel-good documentary about cyclist Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France comeback. Unfortunately for Gibney but fortunately for his movie, before he could put out the inspirational story, Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs and was stripped of all his Tour de France titles and banned from cycling for life.

The Armstrong Lie painstakingly investigates how Armstrong kept his secret for so long and offers a platform to the many people he hurt along the way (including Gibney himself). At around two hours, it might be a little too painstaking, and Gibney’s personal stake in the story sometimes feels awkwardly inserted. But as a comprehensive look at the Armstrong affair, as well as an often complex examination of power dynamics in professional sports, it’s fascinating and highly watchable.

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  • The brisk pacing is the sole improvement over the meandering, overlong original.

  • Nicole Kidman stars as the titular American actress-turned-princess in the flick, which airs on Lifetime this week.

  • The flick is more interested in telling the audience about the importance of fun than in actually having any.

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