Director: Stephen Frears
Writer: John Hodge
Based on: David Walsh‘s book Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong
Cast: Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Lee Pace, Guillaume Canet, Jesse Plemons, Dustin Hoffman, Edward Hogg, Denis Ménochet
Seen on: 21.10.2015
Journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) is impressed by newcoming cyclist Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster), but Lance’s career doesn’t quite take off. But Lance has the will to win. When he realizes that doctor Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet) has a special program – which consists of doping, among other things – Lance wants in on it. Ferrari declines at first but when Lance loses a lot of weight due to testicular cancer, Ferrari does see a viable candidate in him after all. Lance starts on the program, but Walsh grows suspicious of his incredible success and decided to investigate.
I couldn’t care less about cycling and I think doping is just stupid. These are not exactly the best starting points for watching the film and might explain the lengths I felt in an otherwise excellent movie.
I remember the first time I really took note of Ben Foster and I’ve tried to follow his movies ever since because goddammit, it’s not everyday you see so much talent. But here in The Program, he just blew my mind all over again. He is brilliant every step on the way, with a particularly sublime moment when Lance makes 3rd place after his return to cycling. It’s maybe 10 seconds and you get such a wide range of emotion on Foster’s face in this shortest amount of time, it gave me goosebumps.
Next to him, the forceful performance and the way the film characterizes Armstrong, the rest of the cast pales (although they are all really good as well). It is almost impossible not to.
Speaking of Lance’s characterization, it was my favorite part about the film after Foster’s performance (which is of course not independent of that characterization but I’m speaking more of the script and the direction now) because it was just so unusual. Lance was sincere but absolutely ruthless; incredibly hungry for fame and willing to go over bodies for it, but not really interested in the material side of winning; he was an aggressive asshole to his colleagues but considerate, sensitive and very honest in his charity work. We don’t usually get characters that way and it was great (I have no idea how faithful that portrayal is to the original Lance).
The only thing that I found slightly weird about the film was that the Armstrong family was completely removed from Lance as a person. We see him meet his wife, and he later mentions that he has two children but that’s it. Could be that that’s due to some legal considerations but it didn’t feel right to have a film that tries to characterize a person in depth and leaves out their closest personal network.
Nevertheless The Program was an engaging and fantastic film. If you have any love for the sport or interest in the story itself, I’m reasonably sure that you won’t even feel the slightly dragging parts in the middle that I felt.