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Lead chosen for Armstrong film, others follow, but are they too soon?

LanceArmstrong.jpgA biographical film about Lance Armstrong has been a long time coming, and when the idea was first being talked about no one knew what was coming down the road in a matter of years. Now the truth has been revealed there are a good few films trying to tell their stories of his life and all in different levels of production.

One of the latest from director Stephen Frears and writer John Hodge and there's potential news about a strong casting choice for the leading role. Meanwhile there are other just as strongly backed films about Armstrong on the way, will they all make it?

In July 2006 we heard that Jake Gyllenhaal looked set to play Lance Armstrong in a biography of his life, at that time we were talking about him winning the Tour de France bike race seven times even after beating cancer.

In June of 2009, yes that is a fairly long wait, the idea of a biographical film had resurfaced and this time with more purpose. Gary Ross was adapting the book that Armstrong co-wrote with Sally Jenkins called It's Not About the Bike (Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com).

In August of 2012 I wrote an article wondering if now was the time for a film about Armstrong, after all he had just decided to give up fighting the never ending crusade by the United States Anti-Doping Agency who were trying to discredit him and strip him of all his titles. It seemed a witch-hunt, and one that had found people to back up their story. It was all in secret and the evidence against him wasn't being released and yet the claims of cheating kept coming, it seemed bizarre.

Bizarre until the truth finally came out and Armstrong himself admitted to a drug taking regime so incredible it seemed hard to believe. Now the man is stripped of his wins, is being dropped by sponsors galore and is being demonised for what he has done.

Seems a perfect time to make that film about him now, after all the look back on his career with the knowledge of what he was doing is going to make for a very interesting film. Imagine taking that book he co-wrote about his life and analysing it now, using his own admission of guilt to revisit what he had already put down in words as fact.

There isn't one film coming about Lance Armstrong though, as you would expect, there are a number.

Alex Gibney's documentary called The Armstrong Lie has just received a distribution deal from Sony Pictures Classic. Gibney has some excellent documentaries behind him including Freakonomics, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Taxi to the Dark Side (Filmstalker review). His film looks at the man as he trains for his eighth Tour de France race.

Deadline also tells us that there are two more films being developed about Armstrong in the background. One from Warner Bros. and Atlas Entertainment that is being written by Scott Z. Burns and will be directed by Jay Roach who directed Recount and Game Change, as well as Austin Powers films, Meet the Fockers and The Campaign. This film has secured the rights to Tyler Hamilton, an Olympic gold medallist who was a teammate of Armstrong on the US Postal Service Team and revealed all about his involvement in the team doping scandal.

Meanwhile Paramount Pictures and Bad Robot are working on a film that is based on the novel Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong by the New York Times sports journalist Juliet Macur (Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com). There are rumours about this project and who is going to play the lead but nothing concrete.

The big news is for the Stephen Frears directed film which is written by John Hodge who also has credits for Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary, The Beach, Trance and Porno - I shall not mention The Seeker: The Dark is Rising (Filmstalker review) and The Sweeney. This film tells Armstrong's story from his cancer ordeal through to the scandal that revealed the truth about him and his team.

The film hasn't started production but Deadline reveals that Ben Foster is being looked to for the leading role in the film and that it is set to begin production this autumn. It sounds like this could be a very strong film and a great role for Foster however it does face some stiff competition from the other biographical films coming about the man.

I wonder if this one is at a slight disadvantage as it starts from the cancer scare onwards. Surely a film that looks to the beginning of his cheating all the way to present day would be better, one that reveals it wasn't just him that was cheating but the team of riders and indeed other teams in the races?

Mind you thinking more about this story the opening would see him as a hero and an icon to so many people, beating testicular cancer in such a dramatic and powerful way, and then to go on to be revealed as a cheat and a liar.

I hope that a few of these films do make it through to the final product as there is room for a few different views of Armstrong's life, and not just of what he did and how he allegedly controlled the team, but the behind the scenes of who else was complicit in keeping the teams drugged and silent, and how far the lies went both within that team and within the sport itself.

That leads me to the final question in the title, are they all too soon? Imagine if that first attempt at his life had gone ahead and the biographical film had been released before the revelations? That film wouldn't have had much of a shelf life after that point.

So is it still too soon to hear the biographical story of Armstrong? We know the revelations about his own career of winning through drug taking but we haven't really heard the depth and breadth of it in his former teams, the Tour de France and the entire sport. Is there a bigger story here to be told?

Are the films in danger of telling Armstrong's story before it's really complete, just as they were when the biographical films started being discussed way back? Armstrong's own story has yet to be fully told and while that may well come through in some of these films it may not, and the bigger issues may be missed.

There's a danger of a blinkered viewpoint being presented, showing Armstrong as the man pushing and forcing the single team to use drugs to win and yet there are other stories from other years, riders and teams of the involvement of drug taking in the event and sport, there's a wider story to be told here isn't there?



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