The Program tells the story of the doping scandal that surrounded Lance Armstrong and his career as a professional cyclist and world champion athlete. The film is part drama, part real life account of the actions Armstrong took to recover from cancer and become one of the most beloved sports figures on the planet. It’s a harsh and critical take on the man’s legacy and what his personal and professional decisions did to a sport, an industry and a multitude of fans.
This is a complicated film to watch. Fans of Lance Armstrong are going to see their idol cast in a very harsh light here because of the corruption and deception that became a part of his professional career. It’s an ugly story, and the character of Armstrong is presented as a pretentious and vindictive individual who threatens and belittles anyone wanting to expose the truth. It makes for a very unpleasant watch if you like the man and his accomplishments, and if you were never interested to begin with, the movie is nothing more than a stylized depiction of a liar and a cheat.
Ben Foster shows us a dark side of Lance Armstrong in his portrayal of the athlete. His Lance is a troubled cancer survivor who will do anything to become the best cyclist he can possibly be. The path Armstrong takes in this film puts him in the care of Italian physician Michele Ferrari played by Guillaume Canet who helps him recover and become a stronger and faster athlete through the use of EPO and steroids. This takes him down a path that eventually leads to his undoing.
The supporting cast here is really strong and includes Chris O’Dowd, Jesse Plemons, Lee Pace and Dustin Hoffman. Stephen Frears does a good job of making the film feel like a true account by intercutting actual footage from past Tour de France races where Armstrong competed. Some odd uses of CGI come across as out of place, but overall the blending of actors and reality works to the film’s advantage. At times, the tone of The Program is mean and spiteful, but so is the subject. As a real yet dramatized account of one of the biggest scandals in sports history, this is one worth checking out just to be in the know of what happened to the great Lance Armstrong.