Lance Armstrong at the 2004 Tour de France (Joel Saget / Getty Images )
It’s impossible to read about Lance Armstrong’s alleged doping ring -- a case detailed extensively in the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s report yesterday — and not feel like the cross-border sophistication of the alleged operation would make Jason Bourne jealous. Somewhere, a Hollywood producer is wondering how to turn this into a feature film.
But, as it happens, Armstrong is already at the center of a movie. And it may not be too much longer before it’s ready.
Alex Gibney, the Oscar-winning documentarian (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) who’s been working on an Armstrong film for more than three years, told The Times on Thursday that he's been feverishly working on it in the wake of recent developments.
“We’re deep into the edit,” Gibney said. “Sometimes editing can take a while, but I’m hoping the movie will be finished in the next few months.” That doesn’t mean we’ll see it then, of course -- at that point, the film, which is being financed and produced by Sony Pictures, would be delivered to the studio, which will determine how to roll it out. (Matt Damon was previously set to do the voice-over, though nothing’s been recorded because the film isn’t finished.)
The as-yet untitled movie -- it was originally called “The Road Back” but Gibney said it won’t necessarily be released under that name -- follows the athlete on his comeback bid in 2009 at the Tour de France. It was there that a then-37-year-old Armstrong came out of retirement to finish third at cycling’s most preeminent race.
Gibney said he went back to work this past summer to add in the new developments after Armstrong decided to not proceed in an arbitration process with the USADA over doping charges. “We came to a place where we were pretty much done. We knew about the federal investigation and the Tyler Hamilton ‘60 Minutes’ interview and everything else,” Gibney said, alluding to the former Armstrong teammate who charged him with doping in May 2011. “But recently I dug back in, in the wake of Lance’s decision not to challenge the USADA findings.”
Asked if he had also returned to talk to Armstrong, Gibney just gave a small laugh and said, “You’ll have to see the movie.”
In any event, the new developments could affect the film significantly. Gibney now potentially needs to shift the tone of the earlier portions of the film; this isn’t about just adding an epilogue.
Gibney, who will next bring out the Catholic Church child-abuse exploration “Mea Maxima Culpa,” said he believed the new Armstrong details “make the whole film a very powerful meditation on the culture of winning at all costs.”
Calling it a movie that “reckons with broad strokes of the culture,” Gibney added that he believes the finished product will go far beyond its ostensible subject. “This is not just a cycling film,” he said. “This was a sport that became an arms race, where suddenly in order to compete you have to think about things you wouldn’t have thought about doing. In some ways, we all have decisions like that to make.”