The Program Review

So I watched The Program…

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I wasn’t expecting much from this movie. In truth, I didn’t even know it existed until about two weeks ago when I saw its poster in the ‘Upcoming Attractions’ section of a cinema. Then I saw Chris O’Dowd talking about it in a talk show and I’m a fan of his plus, as I’m sure you can tell by now, I really don’t need a reason to go to the cinema.

Okay, basic plot: Lance Armstrong (Ben Forster) is an up-and-coming cyclist who is diagnosed with stage III testicular cancer. Against all odds, Lance beats cancer and is eager to return to the world of competitive cycling. Unfortunately, Lance just isn’t capable to compete with the other racers physically so he resorts to the use of banned substances such as erythropoietin and various steroids. Armstrong achieves instant success and takes the world of cycling by storm. His sudden increase in form rouses the suspicions of Irish sports writer, James Welsh (Chris O’Dowd) who sets out on an multi-year investigation to prove that Armstrong is doping. SPOILER ALERT: Armstrong was actually guilty of doping.

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Before watching this movie, I had never really understood or rather fully appreciated the allure of Lance Armstrong. I knew his story, I mean, how could you not? It was everywhere! It was this great inspirational tale that rallied millions of people into action regarding their own struggles with cancer and everyday life. Even with all of this, I was never truly invested in Armstrong’s struggle or his success so when these doping allegations were proven to be true, I simply didn’t care. But after watching this movie, I understand. I understand why so many people felt betrayed and scorned.This film does a great job of neither painting Armstrong as an outright hero or a straight villain. It has this documentary style to it and presents the facts of the matter plainly without trying to sway your opinion of the man. Director, Stephen Frears does a great providing us with an impartial account of the events of Armstrong’s rise and subsequent fall; and allows the audience to draw their own conclusions of the man.

Honestly, I have immense respect for this main, mainly because of this film. Yes, he is a cheater and a liar and a fraud but he’s also an icon and a hero. He inspired millions, created awareness about testicular cancer and raised millions for its research and he also reinvigorated the sport of cycling. Yes, this was all based on a lie but Armstrong was more than just a man – he was a dream; a pillar of strength people could believe in. Now, while this pillar was built on a foundation of lies, the belief it created was real. Now all of these realisations are made possible because of the concise and precise way this film chooses to tell its story. I loved that it focused on Armstrong and didn’t feel the need to give us every single detail of his life. It focuses on the doping; how Armstrong handled the allegations and the factors that eventually led to his fall from grace. This is what a biography should be – focused.

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Ben Foster puts in an extremely convincing performance as Armstrong. There isn’t much in the way of character development in Armstrong’s character because this film has such a documentary style to it. We never see how Armstrong actually feels or if he has any remorse for his actions; but Foster does a great job bringing forth the competitive spirit and unrelenting determination that Armstrong is famous for. Foster does a great job creating a distinct character and his portrayal never feels like an imitation of Armstrong but rather an accurate depiction. Jesse Plemons (hot off success in Black Mass) puts in an understated and extremely grounded performance as Floyd Landis – a member of Lance’s Tour de France cycling team and the domino that led to Armstrong’s fall. Chris O’Dowd doesn’t have much screentime in this movie with his character forming a rather peripheral figure to Armstrong’s but O’Dowd does well. It’s a break from his usual comedic antics and he’s quite believable as the ever-determined, David Welsh.

Overall, The Program really does an excellent job telling the Lance Armstrong story. I think as time goes on and more details about Armstrong come to light, more film adaptations of the story will come about; but this film has really set the standard for the quality that can now come to be expected from this fascinating tale. This is an entertaining and highly informative film and I suggest you watch it, whether you’re a fan of Armstrong and cycling or not. 8/10

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