‘Lance’ Review: ESPN’s Absorbing Lance Armstrong Documentary Still Reveals Little

Marina Zenovich’s three-hour doc does not let the unapologetic athlete off the hook, however settles for a direct presentation of his apparent contradictions.

Lance Armstrong was an exulted hero to tens of millions, earlier than he was an asshole cheater to tens of millions extra. In her new two-part documentary “Lance,” director Marina Zenovich separates the great from the unhealthy, the hero from the villain, earlier than crashing them collectively in a single unifying portrait of 1 man. It’s more durable than it sounds. The seven-time Tour de France champion and most cancers survivor used his inconceivable medical restoration to spice up his athletic profile, after which used his Wheaties box-approved athletic standing to spice up consciousness for teenagers with most cancers. All the pieces fell underneath the “Lance Armstrong” model, so every little thing got here crashing down when his career-long doping behavior was uncovered in 2012. The scandal tarnished the great he did for the game, the great he did for most cancers analysis, and the apparent good it did for Armstrong himself.

Now, seven years after he admitted to utilizing performance-enhancing medicine, Zenovich checks in Armstrong to see what he’s discovered, how he’s doing, and who he’s change into. The solutions are comparatively easy: He’s discovered little, he’s doing OK, and he’s very a lot the identical man he’s at all times been. Whereas retracing the athlete’s rise and fall with the advantage of hindsight will be compelling (even cathartic for anybody who sported a Livestrong bracelet), the shortage of revelations go away the movie stunted. When you untangle the sticky net of Armstrong’s life, you’re left with the easy impression that he’s neither his greatest or his worst self: He’s only a man.

Maybe “bro” can be the extra relevant time period. “Lance” begins with Armstrong recounting a current run-in outdoors a random bar. Simply as he’s moving into his Uber, he hears somebody name his identify from throughout the road. “Hey Lance!” He seems up. “Fuck you!” Quickly, not solely is the primary shouter nonetheless cussing him out, however his associates take part. So what does Armstrong do? He calls the bar, offers the proprietor his bank card quantity, and tells him to place every little thing these guys order on his tab, given one situation: The bar proprietor has to inform them that Lance Armstrong purchased their drinks.

Prior to now, Armstrong mentioned he would’ve gone over and punched that dude. However now, per this story, he’s modified. However Zenovich is aware of higher. It’s telling that the director begins with a narrative that’s superficially about change, however extra instantly a few deep craving for re-evaluation. Armstrong didn’t simply flip the opposite cheek out of humility and kindness; he pointedly instructed the bartender to inform the individuals who hate him that he did one thing good. This, in a nutshell, is how Armstrong comes throughout within the documentary: clear to some extent, manipulative all through, and determined for a second probability.

More moderen footage exhibits Armstrong receiving an award at a breast most cancers profit… placed on by Babes for Boobs. The sparse crowd talks by means of his acceptance speech, and Armstrong leaves by means of the again door although there have been barely any reporters or followers on the small step-and-repeat when he arrived. Later, he talks to his son Luke’s soccer group at Rice College. After spouting just a few motivational sentiments about working arduous, he has to ask the pinnacle coach for the group’s motto after which forgets his son’s jersey quantity. Armstrong seems determined for any type of highlight that comes with any type of constructive recognition, even when it’s clear these alternatives aren’t the identical as what he had earlier than.

A still from LANCE by Marina Zenovich, an official selection of the Special Events program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nick Higgins.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Lance Armstrong in “Lance”

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photograph by Nick Higgins.

As for the previous, Armstrong’s youth and coaching is harking back to many athletes pushed to extremes. His father left him when he was very younger. His step-father unapologetically beat him with a fraternity paddle. His expertise as a swimmer and bike owner gave him confidence, and the mix of all of the above fashioned a ruthless competitor, who mocked not solely his friends however his coaches. (A supportive highschool coach remembers being minimize out of Armstrong’s life proper after {the teenager} beat him in a race.)

His mentality as an adolescent formed his decisions as an grownup. Not solely did he hold “getting his hate on” all through biking, despising and taunting his opposition as a technique to encourage himself to do higher, however Armstrong justified his a long time of mendacity and throwing different individuals underneath the bus the identical manner. He was in competitors mode, doing no matter it took to win. So by the point Armstrong is requested about Floyd Landis — the primary main bike owner to go on document that Armstrong was doping — it’s no shock he’s unrepentantly indignant. “It might be worse,” Armstrong says about what he’s performed. “I might be Floyd Landis — waking up a chunk of shit every single day.” When requested if that’s how he feels about his former teammate, Armstrong doubles down: “That’s what I do know.”

Maybe much more telling is Armstrong’s disdain for the Livestrong Basis board members who pressured him out of the nonprofit after he admitted to doping. Zenovich tells sufficient tales from sufficient impartial events to make you consider Armstrong actually does care about teenagers with most cancers, however his contempt for being requested to go away so the corporate may hold serving to children exhibits simply how arduous it’s for the person to look past himself.

Armstrong does specific remorse for 2 fairly horrible actions: for calling group therapeutic massage therapist Emma O’Reilly a liar and a whore, after she instructed the reality about his needle use, and for forcing former biking champion Greg LeMond out of sponsorship offers for questioning Armstrong’s honesty. Whereas he’s prepared to confess he shouldn’t have lied and he shouldn’t have linked his story as a most cancers survivor to his journey as a bike owner, Armstrong nonetheless doesn’t perceive why there’s a lot anger linked to his identify when different cyclists who have been doping are nonetheless embraced by their nations. Zenovich focuses on this, as fascinated with Armstrong’s restricted perspective as followers should be, too. How may somebody who’s gone by means of “a nuclear meltdown,” as Armstrong calls his fallout, not look deeper than who responsible and easy methods to get again in America’s good graces?

The movie itself finally suffers from the same drawback. Armstrong’s story is begging for additional context, given what number of athletes battle after intense upbringings start large egos, however the extra quick concern how easy the ending feels. Anybody sufficient in Armstrong to look at three hours of “Lance” will probably be entertained and knowledgeable, maybe they’ll even type contemporary opinions on the determine, however he’s nonetheless only a man. He’s not a villain or a hero. Nobody is just one or the opposite, so possibly we should always cease pretending it’s attainable — or stunning.

Grade: B-

“Lance” premiered on the 2020 Sundance Movie Competition within the Particular Occasions part. ESPN will launch the movie in two elements later this yr.

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