The Program: Film Review

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I found The Program fascinating because I followed the Lance Armstrong doping scandal on the news just a few years ago, so it was great to go back and re-watch his Tour De France glory years knowing what we know now.

Ben Foster plays Lance, a cyclist so obsessed with winning the Tour De France, despite not being built for the endurance race, he concocts a program of performance enhancing drugs with Italian sports doctor Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet). However, he is struck down with testicular cancer and following his journey back to peak physical fitness, he opens the Livestrong Foundation. He goes on to win the Tour in 1999, raising the suspicions of journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd), who begins finding evidence to support his doping claims. Armstrong wins seven consecutive titles in a row, getting his US Postal Team to dope and help him cover it up so they can remain on top, including Floyd Landis (Jesse Plemons), who will eventually become one of many whistleblowers against Armstrong, who finally admits to doping in 2012 and is stripped of his titles.

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I knew the gist of Armstrong’s story but I had no idea how elaborate his drug-taking was and how far the web of lies spread. I could not believe that he was the ringleader in the doping scandal and he essentially forced his team to do it. He considered himself such a big name in cycling that he thought he was invincible. He cared for winning more than he cared for winning with honour and honesty. The web of deceit is insane – and I knew nothing about it. This is also based on Walsh’s book and official documents from the investigative sports body, so it stands up. This was so insightful and I really feel like I learned a great deal from it.

Armstrong is not portrayed well, as you can expect. It is hard to feel for someone when you know they have been lying and cheating their way through life. Even when he got cancer, I felt nothing. There are a few moments which show his nicer side – visiting cancer patients in hospital, getting married etc – but he is mostly an egotistical arsehole who thinks his crap doesn’t stink. Not entirely sure how accurate that is.

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As a journalist myself, I loved the ethical dilemma of Walsh going up against Armstrong because he KNOWS the doping is happening, but he just cannot find “the smoking gun” of proof. Armstrong manages to get away with it for years despite the allegations because he has the money, the connections and the most complex doping program ever.

Ben Foster really impresses, but it’s a shame we don’t get different sides of Lance. He does look like Lance at times, especially when on the bike. I haven’t watched much footage with Armstrong so I can’t say how much he sounded like him etc but I was convinced and I believed he was Armstrong. I also really liked and sympathised with O’Dowd and Plemons, as Floyd is stuck between a rock and a hard place – he wants to out Armstrong, but he will out himself.

If sport is your bag, or any sort of elaborate scandal, then this should float your boat. I absorbed all the information and it was so damn interesting. I’m still not sure we really KNOW Lance under the surface and this does have a slow pace but this aces it with story and Foster’s performance.

In cinemas 16th October 

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