Starring Ben Foster, Chris O'Dowd, Jesse Plemons, Lee Pace, Dustin Hoffman
Most of us already know the rise and fall story of world renowned cyclist and celebrity Lance Armstrong. Arguably too soon to dive into a feature film exploring the seven time Tour de France winners’ doping scandal. Oscar nominated director Stephan Frears (The Queen, Philomena) uses a straightforward approach to dissecting the athlete from the point of view of the journalist who first exposed his lies. As with his other films, Frears invests all the stories energy in the lead actor; Thankfully Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma, The Messenger) goes the distance for the performance. The film takes a pin point approach, giving the audience a good understanding of Armstrong’s life before the doping and the aftermath.
The first time David Walsh (O’Dowd) interviewed young Lance Armstrong (Foster), he was impressed by the American cyclist’s ambition and reinforced self-esteem. Walsh, a sports writer for The Sunday Times, called fowl when he saw the cyclist go from 39th place in the early 90’s, to first place after recovering from testicular cancer. “Is this real or is this dope”, he asked. For years Armstrong deceptively hid his doping with an elaborate system that earned him consecutive victories and mass appeal, not to mention lots of money. From mediocre to Superman, Walsh never gave up when searching for evidence to back his accusations, which cost his own newspaper to issue an apology before the truth finally came out.
The deeper Foster gets into the role, magnificently capturing the arrogance and inferiority, the more intriguing the role becomes.
Foster’s method performance as Armstrong (took performances enhancing drugs under medical supervision) allows the viewer to feel a wide range of emotions for the disgraced sports star. The script is based on Walsh’s book, so Foster gets the chance to elaborate on the details and imagined happenings occurring behind closed doors. The deeper Foster gets into the role, magnificently capturing the arrogance and inferiority, the more intriguing the role becomes. The Program, which is what Armstrong and his dopers called the blood oxygen manipulation regiment, explores the rapid decline of someone who departed from his love of sport, to an obsession of winning. The most startling segment of the film is how Armstrong calculated everything from winning, to using his charity to gain popularity.
John Hodge (The Beach) presents the story very similarly to one of those musical artist biopics, except with Armstrong still alive and well in Austin, TX, there is still more story to tell. Frears is a good director, his work always has an importance to it. Yet it was screenwriter (and actor) Steve Coogan who elevated Philomena beyond a normal Frears film. The Program is very straightforward in the delivery, maybe it lacks seasoning, but it’s understandable to present it this way due to the amount of information shoved into a short period. The Program adds to the number of films vindicating the important work of journalists (Truth, Spotlight, Labyrinth of Lies), or as I like to call its America’s only real justice system.
Foster gives a fiery and visceral performance as Armstrong.