Alex Gibney in "The Armstrong Lie."
Alex Gibney in "The Armstrong Lie."

He might also find "The Armstrong Lie" educational: Faced with lawsuits demanding as much as $100 million in damages from the U.S. Postal Service-sponsored team, Armstrong faces the worst road to recovery since he survived cancer. He might be irredeemable at this point, but "The Armstrong Lie" shows that he nevertheless has a firm grip on the dynamics of the sport, and so his talents aren't entirely dismissible.

Gibney outlines the strategies involved in team-based cycling and proves, through careful analysis of Tour de France footage, that Armstrong was capable of thinking through the competition in the heat of the action. Could he find a second life as a trainer? An anti-doping advocate? A whistleblower like his fellow disgraced players? "The Armstrong Lie" makes it clear that Armstrong will never compete in cycling again, but that doesn't mean he has to go into hiding.

However, it does prove that he still has plenty of penance left if he desires any kind of return to the public eye. Aside from the chemicals he injected into his body -- and the blood he temporarily removed from it, in one particularly gnarly illegal procedure known as blood doping -- Armstrong also bullied and slandered anyone who attempted to stand in his way. Targets included former teammate Frankie Andreu and his wife Betsy, both of whom testified against Armstrong and faced his wrath when he spoke out against them in the media. "The Armstrong Lie" reckons with this tendency as well: Armstrong not only committed to breaking the rules, he helped enforce the system that allowed him to get away with it.

There's no doubt that he has considered the wicked nature of his behavior many times over, but Armstrong is also trapped in his own troubled headspace. "The Armstrong Lie" extracts his string of wrongdoings by arranging them into an enthralling, if not revelatory, story. This fresh positioning should appeal to Armstrong's instincts as a storyteller himself. As he told Gibney earlier this year, the public has seen "two narratives" of Armstrong without getting the full meal; with "The Armstrong Lie," a third narrative has arrived to inch toward some semblance of the big picture.

Criticwire Grade: B+

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Sony Pictures Classics released "The Armstrong Lie" in limited release this week. The film has already generated enough press that it seems poised to perform well over the next several weeks and remain in contention during awards season.