#REVIEW: “THE PROGRAM”
Review by George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
I first took notice of Ben Foster when he was part of the ensemble on TV’s SIX FEET UNDER. Parlaying that initial positive audience exposure onto the big screen in memorable supporting roles in movies as 3:10 TO YUMA, THE MESSENGER and LONE SURVIVOR, his brooding good looks and electrifying intensity has always been magnetic. Oscar nominated director, Stephen Frears (PHILOMENA, THE QUEEN), has an amazing track record of bringing out the best in his actors. When the subject matter is as volatile as a Docudrama about one of the most reviled athletes in recent history, on paper. THE PROGRAM should have been a cinematic slam dunk.
Foster brilliantly inhabits the role of Lance Armstrong, the world renowned champion of the Tour de France. Determined to win the gruelling cycling competition after surviving testicular cancer in 1999, Armstrong recruited Italian doctor Michele Ferrari (a bizarre interpretation by the usually reliable French actor Guillaume Canet) and together with the team’s director (played by Jesse Plemons, best known for TV’s BREAKING BAD) developed a highly elaborate doping system which allowed them to win the event seven times. Initially charmed with the arrogance and chutzpah after first meeting Lance (before his winning streak), Sunday Times journalist David Walsh (on whose book “Seven Deadly Sins” this Movie is based on) began to question just how clean Armstrong was. As played with humour and conviction by Chris O’Dowd (THE SAPPHIRES, CALVARY), Walsh is tenacious and determined to uncover the truth.
Whereas Stephen Frears’ mastery with the camera is apparent as he seamlessly incorporates real footage from the Tour de France races into THE PROGRAM and there are occasional glimpses at the rewards that the fame brought into Armstrong’s life, there is minimal character development. We watch, and not really know WHY Lance Armstrong did what he did. There is a cursory mention of his first wife and three children, no mention of his highly publicized engagement with singer Sheryl Crow and little screen time is devoted to his “Livestrong Foundation”, created to assist other cancer survivors. In essence, we are asked to watch highly unlikeable, selfish and self-absorbed people for its almost two hours screen time when the same topics had been addressed, more successfully, in the compelling Documentary THE ARMSTRONG LIE. As transfixed as I was watching Ben Foster extraordinary awards worthy transformation into Lance Armstrong, the aforementioned Documentary is more revealing and enthralling.
THE PROGRAM arrives with a great pedigree and is still worthwhile viewing. I only wish it had a tad more substance.
eOne Films release THE PROGRAM Friday, March 18, 2016.