When I went to watch this film, I had no idea that this would be about Lance Armstrong. I only had a cursory knowledge of who Lance Armstrong was. He was an American cycling hero who survived testicular cancer then went on to win the grueling Tour de France cycling race an incredible seven years in a row. I also knew about his fall from grace as evidence of his use of performance-enhancing drugs came out and he got stripped of all his titles.
Because of my ignorance, I admit feeling sorry for Armstrong for suffering such major loss. “The Program” tells us there is nothing to pity him for. Lance Armstrong was an absolutely arrogant and horribly hateful person who purposefully fooled the whole world about his “heroism.” This film was so directly one-dimensional about its message such that no other conclusion could be arrived at except for that very negative one. Director Stephen Frears (“The Queen,” “Dangerous Liaisons”) made sure of that.
In the credits, it was revealed that the screenplay of this film was based on the book entitled “Seven Deadly Sins” written by David Walsh. In this film, Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) was played like a martyr. He was Armstrong’s nemesis, the journalist who suspected Armstrong’s drug use from his very first Tour de France win, and never stopped trying to prove that he was right. No wonder the whole film had a disturbingly one-sided point of view. Even sports physician Dr. Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet with an Italian accent) was painted like a sleazy nefarious drug kingpin here, with no sense of medical ethics whatsoever.
Ben Foster was solid in portraying Lance Armstrong as a the big bad villain. This intense actor really got into the skin of his character. He will definitely make you hate him here. I really felt like I was watching the real Armstrong — flesh, blood and erythropoietin. Directed to portray a character who seemingly had no human side to root for, Foster’s Armstrong was indeed cold-blooded and ruthless.
On a more positive note, character actor Jesse Plemons gave a remarkable performance as Floyd Landis, a younger member of Armstrong’s team who got swept up into the “program.” His scenes of conflict as a member of the Mennonite religious community of Farmerville, Pennsylvania and the sport he loved added some point of interest in the film.
While the reenacted scenes of the cycling races merged with actual race footage were thrilling, it was very disappointing to see the “professional” monkey business that happen behind the scenes at these prestigious sporting events. Instead of sports being inspirational, this film shows us the flipside where extreme pride and greed wreak havoc on men’s lives. The deception is dastardly and demoralizing. 7/10
This review was originally published in the author’s blog, “Fred Said.”
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