The Program

Stephen Frears’ newest film was an enjoyable and rather educational look into the Lance Armstrong doping saga, and like his past films The Queen and Philomena, he managed to extract a phenomenal performance from his lead – in this case, the revelatory Ben Foster – but unlike those earlier films, The Program lacked heart and passion.

Frears and writer, John Hodge, presented a clear narrative from the beginning to the final downfall of Armstrong. However, too much time was focused on the long middle act which illustrated the abuse of the performance enhancement drugs (which the audience already knew he did), and not enough time was spent examining the why in the beginning or the potentially emotionally wrecking fall from grace in the end.

As a docu-drama of the faux legend there was not really any real drama involved in the retelling nor were there any documentary revelations about the saga.

We learnt nothing new about Lance Armstrong, nor did we feel like we better understand why he did what he did.

The inclusion of real life footages from the Tour de France races were a good touch and helped to add authenticity to the cycling scenes. However, Frears was not able to inject any sort of passion into the sport although cinematographer Danny Cohen lensed the races with a sense of tight dynamics.

Foster was outstanding in his role. He gave a strong and dedicated performance, and eerily resembled Armstrong. He was convincing in his own self-righteousness and had the smug, charming attitude to carry such vanity off. The little of what we glimpsed at the end of the defeat and shame showed a well that was sadly not tapped and explored.

The character of David Walsh – ably portrayed by Chris O’Dowd – was superficially developed as nothing more than the pesky journalist in the end. As the main supporting character/actor, the audience was not involved in his story as he served just to support and move the narrative along.

Jesse Plemon's Floyd Landis character was also underserved but at least we had a good sense of where his actions come from, and Plemon - an under-rated but ubiquitous character actor - definitely helped to bring his character out.

Like Tom Hardy in Legend and Johnny Depp in Black Mass, Foster has thrown his hat into the longlist of consideration for this year’s Best Actor. However, like Hardy and Depp, the overall quality of the film may hurt his chances, but of all three, I think he is the one that most deserves some recognition especially for his commitment.


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