The Program


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Program
"A clear, clean picture without tricks"

Lance Armstrong achieved what Michael Schumacher did in Formula One. He kept winning. In Lance's case it was Le Tour de France, an extreme bike race that was unaccustomed to serial success, especially by a rider from the States.

What was going on? Exceptional skill, or something else? Cheating, maybe. Doping?

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This is hardly news. Every sport appears stained by the shame of chemicals. Lance became the poster boy for cancer research and a national hero after winning seven consecutive Tours. He is a plausible, charming man on camera. What he's like in private - competitive, controlling, a bit of a bully? - is a whole other story.

Is this the other story?

Stephen Frears uses Danny Boyle's screenwriter, John Hodge, to tell it like it might have been. Ben Foster, a little known support actor, does an excellent job in the lead role. So what's wrong? Nothing, really.

With two exceptions:

1. Alex Gibney's doc, The Armstrong Lie, covered the ground two years ago. Despite looking a bit of a PR exercise in damage limitation it was well received. How can The Program expect to improve on the real thing?

2. The world of international cycling appears insular by trade and exclusive by nature. The same could be said of footballers and marathon runners. Training, competing, training, competing, training, training, training...

Despite asking, "Why make it at all?" and waiting for an answer, Frears presents a clear, clean picture without tricks, or fancy lens work. He can do this kind of thing in his sleep. He's a master storyteller who doesn't take liberties with his audience for the sake of a yellow jersey.

Reviewed on: 13 Oct 2015
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The Program packshot
A journalist tries to prove Lance Armstrong is a cheat.
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Director: Stephen Frears

Writer: John Hodge, based on the book by David Walsh

Starring: Ben Foster, Chris O'Dowd, Jesse Plemons, Guillaume Canet, Dustin Hoffman, Lee Pace, Bryan Greenberg, Elaine Cassidy

Year: 2015

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, France


London 2015

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If you like this, try:

The Armstrong Lie