The latest film by british director Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, High Fidelity, Philomena) is ‘The Program’, the 2015 film about cyclist ‘Lance Armstrong’. It’s screenplay is by John Hodge (Transporting, Shallow Grave, Trance).
For anyone that doesn’t already know, although they’re few and far between at this point, Lance Armstrong is a cyclist that won the ‘Tour De France’ (the pinnacle of competitive cycling) seven times in a row. This is impressive enough, but Armstrong did it having survived testicular cancer in the late 90’s. Through his victories, there were suggestions that he was involved in doping which were regular and emphatically denied by Armstrong.
However in 2012, the legend of Lance Armstrong came crashing down around him, as the US Anti Doping Agency found him not only guilty of doping, but described it as “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen”.
The film, tells the tale of sports journalist David Walsh, writing for the Sunday Times during the Armstrong era of the Tour. Walsh develops suspicions about Armstrong’s cycling performance having recovered from cancer, and begins to dig into the true source of the cyclists successes. It’s Walsh’s book ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ that the film is based.
Playing Walsh is Chris O’ Dowd (Bridesmaids, This is 40, The Boat that Rocked), as the writer finding himself in conflict with, and ultimately part of bringing down, a sportsman that he had championed earlier in his career.
The real stand out in this film though, is the lead performance of Ben Foster (Lone Survivor, Kill Your Darlings, The Mechanic) as Lance Armstrong. Foster is electric in this film. He captures all of the determination, arrogance, and fierce competitiveness of the man.
The challenge of the film, given the extent of the publicity (and recency of the events) is to offer something new to the viewer who likely knows a lot about the story of Armstrong already. Through the tale of Walsh, this is achieved to some extent. Plus the film offers moments with hints of recognition in Armstrong of the weight of the deceit that he had constructed. These moments are prior to the allegations bring out his competitiveness and will to ‘survive’ which would lead to the vehement denials that he would make.