Director: Stephen Frears
Cast: Lee Pace, Ben Foster, Chris O'Dowd, Jesse Plemons, Elaine Cassidy, Guillaume Canet, Laura Donnelly, Dustin Hoffman
Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Drug Use and Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: http://www.theprogrammovie.com/
Opening Day: 19 November 2015
Synopsis: From Academy Award® nominated director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena) and producers Working Title Films (The Theory Of Everything, Everest, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), comes the true story of the meteoric rise and fall of one of the most celebrated and controversial men in recent history; Lance Armstrong, the world-renowned Tour de France champion.
The world needs heroes and Lance Armstrong was the ultimate sporting hero. Following a gruelling battle with cancer, Lance returned to his cycling career in 1999 more determined than ever and with his sights set firmly on winning the Tour de France. With the help of the infamous Italian physician Michele Ferrari and team director Johan Bruyneel, he developed the most sophisticated doping program in the history of the sport. This program allowed Lance and his American teammates to dominate the world of cycling, winning the Tour an unprecedented seven times.
However not everyone believed the fairytale…Sunday Times journalist, David Walsh, at first charmed by Lance’s charisma and talent, soon began to question whether the ‘world’s greatest athlete’ was ‘clean’. Walsh sought to unveil the truth, his ensuing battle with Armstrong risked his own career, ostracised him from the cycling community and cost his paper, The Sunday Times, hundreds of thousands in legal costs. But the indefatigable Walsh eventually uncovered the truth when a select few prepared to talk came forward, exposing one of the greatest deceptions of our time. Inspired by the award winning book ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ by David Walsh, and featuring a stellar cast including Ben Foster (Lone Survivor), Chris O'Dowd (Calvary), Guillaume Canet (Tell No One) and Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad), THE PROGRAM is a tense and suspenseful thriller.
Directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena) and based on the book, Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, by Irish sports journalist David Walsh, The Program documents Lance Armstrong’s competitive cycling career –his first Tour de France, battle with cancer, triumphant return and winning the Tour seven consecutive times, before being stripped of these titles after admitting to doping charges.
For the uninformed, the Tour de France is arguably the most prestigious cycling competition, held mostly in France but with routes entering her neighboring states. Lance Armstrong was the seven-time Tour de France champion, winning the Tour from 1998 to 2005. Armstrong, who was plagued with doping allegations throughout his wins, finally admitted to the doping charges in 2012, and stripped of his titles. If this summary does not interest you, perhaps you should consider another movie.
For people with an interest in Armstrong and/ or the Tour, the film would then be a pretty engaging hour-and-forty-minute summary of the man’s rise and fall, as well as a fascinating character study of someone who was morally suspect but yet did much good at the same time.
Ben Foster, who apparently took performance-enhancing drugs acting in the role, portrayed Armstrong as a multifaceted human, which was a welcome surprise, especially with the vilification of the man in many accounts. It all started with Armstrong’s first Tour – and first interview with the journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd), who will go on to become Armstrong’s “Little Troll” in his dogged pursuit of the truth behind Armstrong’s wins. Over a game of foosball, Armstrong’s ability to garner sympathy and hoodwink others for victory was hinted at, perhaps as a precursor to later events. Fast forward to the 1998 to 2005 victory tours, when Armstrong was the media darling and sports champion who could do no wrong, and when doping in the US Postal cycling team was exceedingly matter-of-fact.
Enter Floyd Landis (Jesse Plemons), the rookie who was recruited as Armstrong’s teammate and contrast to Armstrong. Plemons’ Landis was then lost in the world of professional cycling, and could only accept the reality that doping and science, not hard work, was the key to success. Landis was also the spanner that was thrown into the works; giving Walsh concrete leads to Armstrong’s doping behavior and arguably sparking Armstrong’s downfall.
Throughout the film, Foster’s Armstrong was one the audience loved to hate – driven and unscrupulous when achieving his goals, and a literal road bully. Despite his less than admirable actions, the movie also credits him, rightfully so, for his contribution towards cancer research via the Lance Armstrong, or Livestrong, Foundation. While the man seemed two-faced in the cycling community, he was patient and open to his Foundation’s beneficiaries, spending much time and effort with them, while acting as an inspiration for many more. Perhaps this is why the doping continued for such a long time – who would want to bring down a man who was such an inspiration to so many?
To the reviewer, the movie revolves around the two questions: How much does one want to win to sacrifice his integrity and ignore moral ethnics to do so, and would the end ever justify the means? Taken objectively, Armstrong might have done more good than bad, in his contributions towards cancer research, and in raising the profile of cycling and the Tour de France. Perhaps the only fault was the fact that he was expected to be a role model as a public figure, and to maintain the public’s expectations of an athlete. The film withholds judgment on Armstrong’s actions by providing a balanced take on the issue, and leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions.
(A fascinating introspection of Lance Armstrong and doping, which a focus on the man and little else)
Review by Goh Yan Hui