Led by Ben Foster who plays the infamous Lance Armstrong, The Program tackles one of the biggest sporting lies in history. The pace of the film is wildly inconsistent though, with the first hour ticking by quickly before slowing down to a methodical crawl as it tackles Lance’s time away from the sport and eventually returning again. For anyone familiar with the story of Lance Armstrong, the film doesn’t hold any surprises and sticks true to the story throughout. Ben Foster drives the film forward with a powerful performance in this otherwise good, but not great, sport biography on the doping scandal.
The film is essentially split in half, with the first tackling Lance’s astonishing rise to the top of the Tour De France podium after coming back from cancer and all his wins following that. The second half slows the pace down to a methodical crawl as it tackle’s Lance’s inability to leave the sport alone and consequently, his failed drug test that led to him admitting his betrayal. Splitting the action with Lance up, the film also follows David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd), an investigative journalist for The Sunday Times who is the only one who sees through the facade of Armstrong’s lies. This cat and mouse game between Lance and the journalist is really well done and despite the obvious outcome, manages to maintain an air of uneasy tension throughout.
The faithful recreation of the Tour De France scenes are really well done and manage to capture the essence and the excitement that comes from the cycling event. The rest of the supporting cast are good but never really stand out though, with the main power house Ben Foster who’s faithful recreation of Lance Armstrong highlighting the real stand out moments of the film.
For all that it gets right, The Program feels unncessarily safe in its delivery. There’s no artistic flair and right down to the editing and camera work, it feels passable but never elevates the film. If you’ve seen the 2013 documentary “The Armstrong Lie” the The Program will feel overly familiar. The film is near identical to the documentary but just with less cycling footage. The footage that is used though is good but spread thinly throughout but the film wisely leans on Foster’s powerful performance to see the film through to its finish.
Overall, The Program is a good effort to portray the story of Lance Armstrong but it never really stands out from the many other biographical sport films. Ben Foster is good as the notorious Lance, with a fierce performance from start to finish but the second half of the film feels a little overlong, dragging unnecessarily toward the end. The faithful recreation of Lance’s doping scandal is well worth watching but if you’ve seen the 2013 documentary on the same topic, then there’s nothing new here you haven’t seen before, with the documentary arguably better. Its Ben Foster’s performance that’ll drive you forward to the finish line though and without that, the film wouldn’t be half as good as it is.