The Armstrong Lie parents guide

The Armstrong Lie Parent Review

Overall C

What began as a documentary celebrating Lance Armstrong, a world-class cyclist with seven Tour de France titles, turns into an exploration of the athlete's shame when he admits to using drugs to achieve his great accomplishments.

Violence B
Sexual Content B+
Profanity D
Substance Use C-

The Armstrong Lie is rated R for language.

Movie Review

“The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” might be the perfect idiom to describe The Armstrong Lie. In anticipation of Lance Armstrong’s return to cycling after his 2005 retirement, Director Alex Gibney began shooting footage for a film. The world-class cyclist already had seven Tour de France titles, yet wanted the chance to prove he could do it again.

Allegations about doping had been swirling around Armstrong for years. However, authorities in the sport failed to produce the proof they needed to convict him. In the meantime Lance, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996, had established the Lance Armstrong Foundation. After successfully recovering from his own near-death dance with the disease, he became a spokesman and advocate for other cancer patients. The Livestrong foundation raised over $500 million to fight this illness. The yellow silicone Livestrong wristbands, developed by Nike, sold like hotcakes.

His return to the sport he loved seemed like the perfect plot for a film. But unlike screenwriters who control their narratives, documentarians can’t always predict where their stories will go. Such was the case for Gibney. In 2012, the doping allegations resurfaced with fervor. Then in January 2013, Armstrong publically admitted to doping in an exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey and all bets about the suspected drug use were off. Gibney, afraid the hours of footage would have to be scrapped, put his project on hold.

Then, rather than dump all his work, Gibney decided to revisit the footage from the perspective of what he called in a Screen Daily interview, “his own role as part of the myth-making apparatus.” The final cut of The Armstrong Lie is narrated by Gibney and includes interviews from Armstrong’s former teammates, the doctor involved in the doping and others associated with the biking legend.

Armstrong has moments of contrition in this documentary. Still, after seeing how vehemently he denied his drug use for so many years, it is hard to know how sincere his remorse really is. Armstrong appears to have used his power and prestige to squash any opponents, including former teammates, who testified against him. His actions disappointed or damaged not only the sport of biking and Tour de France, but also a lengthy list of sponsors, cancer victims and the film crew. And while there seems to be a hint of justification for doping in a sport that was rife with drug use, the biggest hurdle for most people seems to be Armstrong’s lies—untruths that he staunchly defended.

The danger of winning at any cost is one worth discussing, especially with young athletes who’s only ambition is to make it to the top of the podium. (Unfortunately for teen viewers and their parents, this R-rated film includes about a dozen uses of a sexual expletive and a smattering of other profanities.) By the end of the documentary, the question remains for the viewer: Is Lance sorry for what he did, or just sorry he got caught?

Directed by Alex Gibney. Starring Lance Armstrong, Reed Albergotti, Betsy Andreu. Running time: 124 minutes. Updated

Get details on profanity, sex and violence in The Armstrong Lie here.

The Armstrong Lie Parents Guide

Why is winning so important to Armstrong? How does he use his successes on the bike tour to define himself? Do you think this admission of guilt will significantly change the way he approaches life in the future or not?

How were others hurt by Armstrong’s untruths? Who lost jobs or opportunities?

Will cycling (as well as other sports) ever be able to remove doping? Does more sophisticated testing just mean the ways to avoid detection also will become more sophisticated? Could a “clean” athlete ever successfully compete?