THE PROGRAM, Film Review, November 2015

From legend to disgrace, The Program is an inside look into the life and career of Lance Armstrong and the most ‘sophisticated doping scandal in the history of sport’.

Based on Irish Journalist David Walsh’s book Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, the film is directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen), and stars Ben Foster (X-men: The Last Stand) as Armstrong and Chris O’Dowd (Sapphires) as Walsh.

Lance Armstrong wants to be good at what he does, but finds winning elusive. He approaches doctor, Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet) for advice, who informs him that he does not have the right body type for cycling. Soon we find Armstrong in the shower, coughing up blood after being diagnosed with cancer, and witnessing his struggle to recover quickly and return to competition. Now determined to win at all costs, he approaches the sleazy doctor a second time.

But journalist David Walsh becomes suspicious about the cyclist’s new success and questions whether there may be more to Lance Armstrong’s ‘man power’ than meets the eye. He approaches other cyclists for information, later finding evidence to confirm his suspicions. This sets up a tense battle of wills between the athlete and the journalist.

Program filmBoth Foster and O’Dowd are quite superb as Armstrong and Walsh, respectively. Ben Foster nails the portrayal of Lance Armstrong. The cyclist’s obsession and intense behaviour are clearly communicated in Foster’s body language. It is quite refreshing to see Chris O’Dowd in a drama; he has come along way from his IT Crowd days, and his growth as an actor makes the portrayal of David Walsh so interesting to watch.  

Despite the engaging performances and storyline, there are some elements that are lacking. The start of the film seems a little rushed. We find Armstrong competing, and almost immediately is seen coughing up blood in the shower after the cancer diagnosis and then on the road to recovery. Such events might have needed to be dealt with quickly, but it does feel more than a little hasty. 

There are also times when some of the British actors fall in and out of their American accents, which becomes a distraction.

Meanwhile, Dustin Hoffman provides a big name drawcard, but is unfortunately underused in a small part that doesn’t really add anything to the film. 

The Program does provide an interesting look into the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong. Even if you are not a sports fan or have not followed his story, there is enough drama and emotion here to keep you well entertained.

3.5 Stars

By Cat Kusmuk-Dodd