Many sports fans are fully aware of the intricate details of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal but The Program is still more than a worthwhile look into one of the biggest sporting scandals in history. Ben Foster, best known for his roles in X-Men and Six Feet Under, gives a ferocious portrayal of Armstrong in his moments of both glory and shame.
The Tour de France, the most important tournament in cycling, serves as the centrepiece of the biopic and the driving force of Armstrong's ruthless determination to succeed. Stephen Frears captures the essence of the competitive nature of the tournament beautifully in the opening shot, with Foster as Armstrong beating around the scenic route with force, his heavy breathing providing the soundtrack.
Based on the expose book written by Sunday Times journalist David Walsh, the film wastes no time in getting to the crunch of the story with Armstrong quickly getting lulled into the doping culture of sports after hearing about a "programme", designed by Michele Ferrari, using performance-enhancing drugs. Whereas some might expect – or hope – to see more of a human side of Armstrong, The Program barely attempts to do so, even when the subject is diagnosed with testicular cancer.
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After beating the disease, Armstrong's motivation is tenfold and after being turned away the first time, the cancer survivor returns to Ferrari with a new physique and even bigger aspirations to conquer the Tour. In fact, with his recovery, Armstrong appears to have acquired an even bigger ego that pushes his character beyond the unlikeable. The athlete boldly states at one point: "I am Lance Armstrong and he is f*****g no one."
Foster is wickedly brilliant in his portrayal, effortlessly transitioning from a vulnerable cancer patient to bordering on sociopathic, not to mention the physical changes made to the actor's body in order to depict the various stages of Armstrong's life and career. The sheer extent of the sportsman's addiction to doping is played out well – under the guidance of his coach, Armstrong and his team of cyclists constantly inject themselves with the drug EPO which, according to Ferrari, makes them "fly".
While many will know the doping story, it is still unbelievable the lengths the athlete went to in order to succeed. As fellow disgraced cyclist Floyd Landis, played by the remarkable Jesse Plemons, sums it up: "We're cyclists selling our bikes to buy drugs."
According to the film, Armstrong barely had time for much of a personal or love life outside of cycling. Only a short segment is dedicated to the cyclist meeting and eventually marrying his first wife Kristin Richard but she is never mentioned again, powerfully serving as a reminder as to how much his determination to succeed in his career most likely overshadowed every other area of his life.
Chris O'Dowd's portrayal of journalist Walsh throughout his relentless journey to unearth the truth about Armstrong is fantastic and offers some moments of light comedy in the midst of what is otherwise a serious topic.
Writing by John Hodge is straight to the point, with no fluff making for a very brutal look at the man Armstrong truly is. However, given it is based on Walsh's previously published book, the biopic appears to offer nothing new to the heavily publicised doping story that continues to unfold in the media. Still, as Armstrong's lies about using performance-enhancing drugs unravel, so does Foster's performance making The Program a worthwhile watch.
The Program is released in UK cinemas on 16 October.
Ben Foster is wickedly brilliant in his portrayal of Lance Armstrong, effortlessly transitioning from a vulnerable cancer patient to bordering on sociopathic.