This fascinating and gripping film tells the story of the remarkable rise and and fall of Lance Armstrong.
Directed by Stephen Frears, the film has a documentary vibe about it in the way in which it has been filmed. It features archive footage from news reports to add an extra layer to the story and how it all happened – but doesn’t over rely on it to give the full story.
The audience follows how Armstrong’s career developed and his obsession (or addiction if you will) to winning no matter what he had to use to do it. But more importantly, the audience gets to see how his arrogance and confidence of not getting caught turned him into a monster – with his bullying tactics to keep people quiet (particularly seen in the scene where he bullies the doctor) and general nastiness to keep pushing to be the best.
Yet on balance, the film also suggests that this whole scandal was not entirely Armstrong’s fault. Yes, he chose to get on board with ‘the programme’ but would it have got so out of control if he didn’t have other people also encouraging him? It is difficult to say for sure.
Although many of the characters feel underdeveloped, there is no questioning the strength of Ben Foster’s performance as Lance Armstrong and the way he develops the character from a likeable person with a passion for cycling to the obsessive and controlling Armstrong that we see at the climax of the film.
There is also great support from Jesse Plemons as Floyd Landis – caught up in the scandal and can’t untangle himself from it – someone who has strong morals but at the same time also easily led astray. Chris O’Dowd also has great strength as the journalist David Walsh – determined to find out the truth about Armstrong at whatever cost – it is just a shame that he doesn’t play a bigger part in the film in terms of what he discovered.
This is a problem with the film as a whole. It moves with great speed and energy but at the same time seems to lack a finesse about it that leaves a few questions lingering in the mind of the audience.
It is gripping and chilling in equal measures when it comes to the drug taking and is graphic in places, but at the same time it does humanise Armstrong – showing hints of vulnerability, such as when he is at the children’s centre for cancer patients or when a woman tells him that he gave her the courage to live – in moments like this you can see that it makes him doubt what he is doing.
Stephen Frears has done an excellent job of getting to the heart of Lance Armstrong as a person as opposed to just the athlete who got caught cheating and is effective in getting the whole story on screen.
Overall verdict: a compelling and gripping film that shows that no one is safe from the consequences of their actions.
The Program is released on DVD on February 15th. It is available to pre-order on Amazon now.