Title – The Program (2015)
Director – Stephen Frears (Philomena)
Cast – Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Jesse Plemons, Lee Pace, Guillaume Canet, Dustin Hoffman
Plot – A dramatization of Irish reporter David Walsh’s (O’Dowd) investigation into famed cyclist Lance Armstrong’s (Foster) alleged use of performance enhancing drugs during the peak of his career where he dominated the industry and in particular the Tour De France.
“Attack without mercy, keep your head down and don’t look back”
Review by Eddie on 23/06/2016
The life and times of bike racing legend turned exposed drug cheat extraordinaire Lance Armstrong will forever and a day make for an intriguing and shocking story and while Philomena and The Queen director Stephen Frear’s feature exploring the ‘program’ that Armstrong and his racing team developed to systematically rout the system is insightful, it’s still a rather cold and strangely structured piece that gets us no closer to knowing who Armstrong really was or what made him into the figure he is today.
Those seeking an Armstrong biopic will be left sorely disappointed by The Program, as its main goals are signposted early by throwing the viewer headfirst into Armstrong’s later life as an up and coming racer, a cancer survivor and eventually a superstar of the sport that he became a household name for his achievements and then a name that will tarnish the racing industry for the foreseeable future.
Frear’s bases his tale on Irish reporter David Walsh’s book who is here played by the impressive Chris O’Dowd and that books focus clearly drives The Program to be almost entirely centred around what went on behind closed doors (or caravan doors) with Armstrong and his crew but it’s the films sporadically used racing scenes that really get the heart going and it would’ve been great for the film to be a little more ‘cinematic’ in its ambitions, it would’ve likely helped the films causes upon release to in what was a very lacklustre run at cinemas despite the interest in the Armstrong story and Ben Foster’s impressive central display as Armstrong.
A long time student of supporting roles (his turns in 3:10 to Yuma and Lone Survivor are highlights) and the odd lead, it’s great to see Foster cast in such a high profile role and looking past his uncanny resemblance to Armstrong, Foster’s turn is full of physical and mental commitment. It’s not an easy role, Armstrong comes across as a totally unlikeable and self-obsessed creation (watch as Armstrong sheds tears at placing third on the podium) and Foster doesn’t hold back from the narcissistic creation that the racing superstar no doubt was and probably still is today, despite his great work for cancer research the world over.
The Program is a watchable and proficiently made examination of a certain aspect of Armstrong’s life and also the shadowy dealings of the racing industry but it never really reaches a great height considering the materials at its disposals and its inability to get down to what made Armstrong tick is considerably infuriating, despite Fosters winning performance.
3 blood bags out of 5