The Program

27 November 2015 | 6:14 pm | David O’Connell

"The Program feels like a race, but still provides its subject matter with room to breathe and develop."

Perhaps the biggest scandal to rock sports, certainly in the last 20 years, Lance Armstrong was an idol to millions, but with feet of clay. His sporting drug scandal shocked the world, and brought him crashing down to earth.

This film presents an exhaustive insight to Armstrong's career, setting the stage with a meeting between sports journalist, David Walsh (Chris O'Dowd) and Armstrong (Ben Foster) at his first Tour de France. After recovering from testicular cancer, Armstrong vigorously pursues a regimen of illegal doping under the auspices of Dr Ferrari (Guillaume Canet) that radically alters his performance. With Armstrong's victorious return to the Tour, Walsh's suspicions mount, and he seeks to uncover the story. 

The Program is one of the sleekest, most cut-down examples of storytelling to be seen on the big screen. Based on Walsh's 2012 book (Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit Of Lance Armstrong) the film quickly conveys all the nuance of the sport, the decades of cover-up and web of lies. Each scene is short, precise and on point, yet it manages to loose none of its emotional resonance. It is a streamlined piece combining form and function. 

Ben Foster brings us an Armstrong that is driven by his obsession to be the best, to such an extent that in everything else he seems lacking. It consumes him, leaving just a shell, making Foster's performance bordering on the sociopathic, as any empathy is jettisoned for the all consuming goal. So as where we see a charismatic Armstrong on display for the press, at home we see a man practising his lines in front of a mirror.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

The foil to this is O'Dowd's Walsh. Equally driven to uncover Armstrong's regimen of deception, Walsh acts as a lone voice in the wilderness during the period of Armstrong's reign. Often a whipping boy, thanks to cycling's code of Omerta, Walsh is dogged in his determination. O'Dowd also brings his wellspring of charisma to the portrayal, bringing the audience instantly onside. 

Packing a lot into its 103-minute run-time, The Program feels like a race, but still provides its subject matter with room to breathe and develop. It is compelling viewing that takes great pleasure in toppling an idol with its sardonic wit.

Originally published in X-Press Magazine