The Program

I used to believe in this sport and Armstrong is killing it!

Year Released : 2015the_program
Director: Stephen Frears
Cast : Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Denis Menochet, Jesse Plemons, Lee Pace and Guillaume Canet

Working at a cinema is a great way of seeing all of the posters of films that are coming out soon more often than others. Before I transferred away from the Lincoln Odeon, they had a poster for “The Program” and whilst the subject matter of Lance Armstrong has never really been something that interested me, the very fact that it had Ben Foster as the star was enough for me to get excited.

“The Program” wasn’t released at the majority of UK cinemas, but when shopping in my local Asda earlier for some waffles (I bet you never thought you’d read something like that on a film review site), I saw it on Blu Ray and with hesitation I picked it up and paid my £15.

Again, as above, I don’t know a lot about the Lance Armstrong scandal, other than his infamous interview on Oprah Winfrey, and I genuinely couldn’t give the slightest crap about the sport of cycling, but there is just something very intriguing about this film, especially as it looks very similar to another sports movie, “Rush”, which I rated as one of my top 20 films of all time a few months ago.

Plot

In the early 1990s, journalist David Walsh (O’Dowd) is playing a game of table football with rookie Tour-De-France entrant, Lance Armstrong (Foster). Armstrong states that he would be happy simply to win just one of the stages. Despite his humble ambition, Lance is quickly antagonised by the experienced Johan Bruyneei (Menochet) about his chances. This starts a fire in Armstrong to win at all costs.

Armstrong learns of a performance enhancing drugs program that is run by Michele Ferrari (Canet), but before Armstrong can properly join the program, he is diagnosed with testicular cancer and spends time in the hospital recovering. He eventually recovers and the chemotherapy means that his body has become more streamlined, and as well as the drugs from Ferrari’s program, Armstrong hires Bruyneei as his coach.

In 1999 Armstrong comes out of nowhere to destroy the field and win the Tour-De-France, but this arises the suspicion of Walsh, who states that Armstrong was having to brake in order to slow down whilst going up hill. Walsh spends several years trying to gather evidence to bring Armstrong down, all whilst Armstrong wins seven Tour-De-Frances in a row, but when former teammate Floyd Landis (Plemons) tests positive for drugs, it’s only a matter of time before Armstrong’s luck runs out.

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So, is it any good?

Whilst not as good as “Rush”, “The Program” is one of the best sports biopics I’ve seen in my life. For the first time since I started running this site, I didn’t once look to see how long was left in the run time whilst viewing a new film. Not once was I bored. Not once did I want to it be over. Not once did I think “The Program” was anything other than engaging and intelligent.

Even though you more than likely know the eventual outcome before you watch this film, you’re drawn in by the situation and even if you don’t know the history behind it. The scene in which Marsh is questioning how Armstrong can’t be on drugs when he is having to brake going uphill brings it all together, and that’s only about half way through the movie.

You begin to get engrossed in the situation as you just wait for that moment when you know the Armstrong is left with no choice to admit his cheating, but that’s the best part, you don’t once feel against him. You feel emotionally attached to the character because you know what he went through and he ultimately wants to win for not only the glory of winning, but also to help fight cancer. There is one scene in particular where Armstrong is visiting a group of kids with cancer and despite being pushed for time, he sits down with a bed-ridden teen for a chat, and even though the teen doesn’t say anything, Armstrong stays for support. At no point was I actually angry at Armstrong for what he was doing because despite cheating, he was generally a good guy.

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The development of the character is interesting throughout as you see Armstrong turn from someone with such humble ambitions, to someone who is just obsessed by winning, and anything less is a failure….not that you see him fail to win that much. This, combined with the aforementioned interactions with the cancer patients, helps you become attached to Armstrong as a character because he shows a level of depth,

This feeling of attachment to Armstrong is down in no small part to the excellent performance of Ben Foster. Foster nails it from start to finish and it’s yet another chameleonic performance from someone who I described as one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. I keep running out of compliments for Foster because he is that good. He leaves and breathes his characters and Armstrong is no exception, and in the make-up he does have a very striking resemblance to Armstrong, it’s quite interesting.

However, he is not the only one who excels in “The Program” with Lee Pace being his ever reliable self, Jesse Plemons continuing to stake his claim as one of Hollywood’s most promising young actors, and Denis Menochet giving arguably his best performance since his minor role in “Inglorious Basterds”.

I can’t really think of any complaints at all about “The Program” other than the first few minutes feeling very disjointed in places, but other than that there isn’t anything about this story about ambition and the desire to win.

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Summary

One of the easiest approved stamps that I’ve had to give for some time, “The Program” is everything that a sports movie should be.approved

The acting is fantastic throughout from all concerned, especially the ever reliable Foster. Foster heads up a cast that superbly captures their characters, and yet there isn’t really a dislikeable one throughout, having said that, very few of the characters are actually typically protagonistic characters, which is very odd for a film.

The look of “The Program” is great, the soundtrack is fantastic and all around this is a very good, exceptionally made film.

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