An Australian production that has already played in the U.K., “Lance Armstrong: Stop at Nothing” rolls Stateside via Showtime, and provides a riveting look at the cycling champion’s rise and (especially) fall. Comprehensively reported, director Alex Holmes’ documentary makes devastating use of Armstrong’s depositions and press conferences to illustrate the vehemence with which he denied doping allegations before coming clean, though not enough to soothe the feelings of those he badgered and sought to intimidate. Perhaps foremost, as shrewdly depicted, the story captures the collective hunger for heroes — and the speed at which media can turn away from them.
It always takes something spectacular to interest people in a sport like cycling, and Armstrong’s tale — overcoming testicular cancer to win the grueling Tour de France a staggering seven times — seemed almost too good to be true. Small wonder he became an icon, raising millions for his charity and hobnobbing with politicians (he’s shown with Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani) who lined up to be seen with him.
But it was, indeed, too good to be true, as Armstrong not only relied on performance-enhancing drugs but went to extraordinary lengths to cover his tracks and obscure his transgressions, responding with righteous indignation toward anyone who might dare seek to expose him.
At the center of the documentary are fellow cyclist Frankie Andreu (pictured) and his wife Betsy, friends of Armstrong who ultimately turned against him. When the facade finally came crashing down, Armstrong abruptly lost millions in endorsement deals, went from being lionized by David Letterman to becoming Top 10 List fodder, and finally had to engage in a public act of contrition by admitting his sins to America’s mother confessor, Oprah Winfrey.
Holmes covers an inordinate amount of ground, but throughout “Stop at Nothing” he keeps returning to how desperately people wanted to embrace the inspirational aspects of Armstrong as a cancer survivor who triumphed against overwhelming odds — a walking (or rolling) version of a heartwarming Hallmark movie.
The point’s also made that the athlete might have begun to believe in his own invulnerability, as if his intricate web of deceit couldn’t possibly catch up with him.
“At some point, people have to tell their kids that Santa Claus isn’t real,” Floyd Landis, a fellow disgraced cyclist and former Armstrong teammate-turned-accuser, is shown saying in a “Nightline” interview.
Paced and scored with the urgency of a thriller, “Stop at Nothing” — which was renamed for U.S. consumption — constitutes more than just its original subtitle, “The Lance Armstrong Story.” Rather, it delivers a thought-provoking combination of near-mythic hubris, the eagerness of people to put somebody on a pedestal, and how, just as quickly, it all can start racing downhill.