Monday, 23 November 2015

The Program: Film Review

The Program: Film Review

Cast: Ben Foster, Chris O'Dowd, Lee Pace, Jesse Plemons
Director: Stephen Frears

Those looking to The Program for more of an insight into what drove Lance Armstrong to become the most reviled man in cycling and to get some idea of why won't find many answers.

Stephen Frears' film is more pulled from the court documents and investigation into the mass doping and also from Irish journalist David Walsh's book into how Armstrong duped so many.

Ben Foster is Armstrong, whose drive and ambition to be number one is the sole reason for his desire to be part of a doping programme run by Michele Ferrari (Canet). Having been dismissed by Walsh as a contender and the doctor as not having the physique, Armstrong simply refuses to listen to reason and gradually makes his way to the top.

But Walsh (O'Dowd in a genial turn) is convinced something is not right and starts to give a louder voice to his suspicions.

The Program is perhaps not the definitive film about Armstrong.

While Foster manages to convey Armstrong's apparent icy arrogance to a tee in this docu-drama, his portrayal like most of the movie is rather two dimensional. If Armstrong's not spouting and pouting about winning, he's threatening the pack of riders and his own team, spitting venom on those who threaten to fall out of line and who speak the truth. If anything, Foster's slightly cartoon-like turn threatens to veer onto the screen too often.

Thankfully, he is not alone in this almost OTT show; Canet as Ferrari is as close to an Italian stereotype as ever witnessed on the big screen and while that may be accurate in real life, it does little to ground the story in a reality which is compelling to view.

Depth is a problem which dogs The Program throughout as its narrative chops and changes and people who seem crucial to the story drop in and drop out when the moment demands and for no reason whatsoever. O'Dowd's Walsh appears to sound concerns before disappearing and then re-appearing to voice those same concerns; Jesse Plemons' Floyd Landis appears conflicted at his role within the team and shows up again later with a complete U-turn; every editing moment seems more about the flashy graphics and distractions rather than a character study of Armstrong and those around him.

There's no disputing Frears' intentions - Armstrong remains a strong and powerful subject, but The Program seems more intent in making him into a pantomime villain, a puppet-master provocateur who throws a tantrum when it doesn't go his way, dishing out threats before cycling off into the distance.

The whole result of The Program is that a fascinating subject is condensed into a no light and shade piece that simply throws it all at the wall, hoping some of it will stick. In the end, that's the real scandal of this version of the Lance Armstrong story.


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