The Program – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: Stephen Frears
Writers: John Hodge (screenplay), David Walsh (book)
Stars: Jesse Plemons, Lee Pace, Ben Foster
The incredible rise of Lance Armstrong, and his inevitable fall from grace is the stuff of legend; so it’s no wonder that it is now the subject of Stephen Frears’ latest biopic ‘The Program’. Ben Foster is brilliantly calculating in the central role, willing to do whatever is necessary to be the Tour De France champion, because after battling cancer, he ‘never wants to be that close to losing again’. To help reach this goal he garners the help of controversial sports physician Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet), with an almost Mephistophelian ability to promise the world, and deliver.
After facing death while battling testicular cancer, Armstrong quickly gets back onto the bike, into training, and quickly onto the podium; first winning the Tour in 1999. To achieve this success, Armstrong and the team he rules are initiated into ‘the program’: a strict routine of training and increasingly complicated blood doping routines masterminded by Ferrari.
‘The Program’ is based on the book written by Irish sports writer David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd), so sticks largely to Armstrong’s professional life – even his meeting and marriage with first wife Kristen Richard happens in a matter of moments, and his children only appear for podium photo opportunities. This helps to maintain the investigative, almost documentary style; though it means that the film has little to reveal which hasn’t already been covered in reports and documentaries.
The highlight of the film is undoubtedly the relationship between those involved and critics of their practices; surviving with a complex practice of intimidation, threatening fellow cyclists, and turning Walsh’s colleagues against him. This is most notable with the entrance of Floyd Llandis (a brilliant Jesse Plemons); the only team member to ever show doubt, who is ultimately shunned by Armstrong and his team.
Overall, ‘The Program’ doesn’t disappoint as a hard hitting biopic with a good script, and stunning cinematography. But with the well documented events so fresh in the memory of the audience, one wonders whether the film has been released too soon to pack a full punch, as there is little room for fresh revelations.