The Program Review
Very few sports scandals have rocked the world in the past few years as the Lance Armstrong doping case. Once a triumphant tale of human will over adversity with his recovery from cancer to go on to win the Tour De France seven consecutive times, Armstrong has become a major figure in the discussion of corruption in the sporting world. Now Philomena director Stephen Frears dramatises the events in The Program, possibly one of the most intense sports films ever.
Lance Armstrong is an athlete determined to be the very best, even to the point of engaging in illegal doping to enhance his cycling. After recovering from cancer he gets on an extreme regime designed to help him win. Journalist David Walsh knows that something is up, but struggles to prove anything against the most powerful sports personality in the world.
It is something very particular about a film that manages to mirror its subject so well, and The Program is built very much like a professional cyclist: lean, streamlined and taking you on a pounding journey at break-neck speed. No word yet on whether it’s also on movie enhancing drugs. I was actually surprised with how much I was drawn into the film, professional cycling being a topic not exactly in my wheelhouse. The film wastes no time in unnecessary set-up, we start right there with Lance Armstrong’s early races and encouraging his team to dope. Ben Foster’s performance is similar; intense and to the point. According to reports Foster went on Armstrong’s exact doping regime, and I can believe it. There are even shades that reminded me of a psychopathic crime boss, using intimidation and his position to get his way. Chris O’Dowd’s David Walsh is a good match to this in his man on a mission crusade to bring down Armstrong. I really do love O'Dowd in his more dramatic roles and it is the same here, even if there are a couple of amusing close-ups of VERY INTENSE TYPING.
As I said before this very much isn’t a biopic. It isn’t concerned with Armstrong’s early life or his inner morality, or with Walsh’s personal dilemma in seeking the truth at possibly the cost of his career. If anything the moral centre of the film is Jesse Plemons as Floyd Landis, the member of Armstrong’s team that would eventually confess and break the doping case wide open. The main tension in the latter half of the film is in waiting for him to snap. Instead the film plays somewhere between a docudrama, particularly with the use of news footage from the time, and a sports based thriller, which I think suits it.
The streamlining of the plot does mean that some events will be a bit too skimmed over to some peoples’ liking. However I think as a general look at Armstrong and the doping scandal rather than being an in-depth moment by moment case study the film more than delivers.