The Program tells the story of Lance Armstrong, the former professional cyclist, who won the Tour de France seven consecutive years from 1999 until 2005. Armstrong is now more recognised for the doping scandal in which he was heavily involved, and has since been stripped of his Tour de France victories.
Prior to seeing The Program, my knowledge of Lance Armstrong was very minimal. I had no awareness of him as a cyclist, and could vaguely remember the interview with Oprah Winfrey in which he admitted to doping. My attraction to The Program was mostly due to acclaimed director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena), and an enjoyment of his previous work.
Those looking for a biopic of Armstrong may be disappointed in what the films brings. But, those wanting to know about Armstrong as a cyclist, and the scandal which arises, will be more satisfied with what’s on offer. Early on in The Program, we see the effect that being diagnosed with testicular cancer aged 25 has on Armstrong, and how this pushes him into competitive sport. Apart from this brief glimpse into his life away from cycling, we see very little else of Armstrong’s personal life, and nothing of his childhood
Ben Foster as Armstrong is amazingly accurate in his portrayal. Having spent several weeks training with a professional cyclist, Foster also admitted to taking performance enhancing drugs, under medical supervision, in order to better understand the role he was playing. Foster holds the film up mostly by himself, and his performance is certainly the highlight of The Program.
In contrast, Chris O’Dowd plays journalist David Walsh, whose book Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, is the basis for the film. Walsh was key in uncovering the use of doping by Armstrong and the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team. As the focus of the film is mainly on Armstrong, O’Dowd as Walsh appears mostly in the second half of the film, in his attempts to uncover the truth. Although O’Dowd may not have an overly long screen presence, his time on screen holds a good balance between him and the character of Armstrong.
The supporting cast are also very strong, and most had the difficult role of playing a living person. However, each character manages to bring something to the story, and no one is unnecessarily added to the plot for no apparent reason. The dynamics between Armstrong and his team of cyclists brings drama to the story, as we see friendships become rivalries.
Although certainly not Stephen Frears’s best film, The Program does have moments of intrigue and intensity, which will keep the viewer entertained. If for no other reason, Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong is a reason to see The Program. If you need another reason, Dustin Hoffman appears in a small role. Any film with Dustin Hoffman in is automatically improved!
The Program will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on 15th February 2016.