Is The Program worthy of the Tour de France, or does it hobble away on a flat tyre?
Movies designed to reflect real life situations can be hard to balance. Bringing to life one of the most scandalous cover ups in sporting history was definitely an up-hill climb, but overall director Stephen Frears provides us with an intriguing look at a fascinating chapter in cycling lore.
The Program follows the biggest doping scandal ever revealed in sport, telling the story of the once legendary cyclist, Lance Armstrong. Documenting the rise and fall of the once untouchable American, we dip our toes into Armstrongs career, all the while looking at what really went on behind the scenes.
When you think of successful adaptations, be it from books or biographies, we need not look any further than Frears. With some impressive re-imaginings already under his belt, most notably the heartbreaking Philomena and cult classic High Fidelity, it’s safe to say you can rely on Frears to get the job done. The Program is a further example of his skills, even if it doesn’t manage to recreate the subtle brilliance of his previous work.
Not afraid to jump straight in, we are thrown into the action, immediately addressing the cancer Armstrong suffered in the beginning of his career. This direct approach sets the pace perfectly, making sure to carefully spoon feed the audience the basics. To its strength, it never makes you feel that you need to be a cycling expert culminating in a rather more enjoyable experience.
It’s about halfway through though that we begin to see the seams unravel a little. The beginning, although interesting is the unfortunate dictator as to whether you enjoy the rest of the film. If you get hooked, the rest of the ride is dynamic and insightful, but if you don’t, you might be left a little bored and caught in a tough headwind.
Although suffering a little in the middle, The Program is fortunate enough to be blessed with a great cast lead by an impressive Ben Foster. Fosters dedication to the role is astounding, embodying the character with such conviction that you could be forgiven into thinking he was the disgraced rider. With an equally impressive performance from Chris O’Dowd, this is definitely a well thought out piece of casting.
Overall, The Program is an enjoyable ride for anyone genuinely interested in one of cycling’s most prolific doping scandals. With a strong beginning it might end up hooking in the masses, but the pacing issue in the middle may equally send them home.
3.5 out of 5 stars