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(II) (2015)

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8/10
Unforgiving drama that brings yet more shame to the name of Lance Armstrong
bartonj241017 October 2015
'Champion. Hero. Legend. Cheat.' reads the tagline for The Program, Stephen Frears' film about the controversial and illegal route Lance Armstrong took to winning seven Tour de France titles between 1999-2005. It sure is simple yet delivers a powerful message about one of the once most iconic heroes in sport.

David Walsh (Chris O'Dowd), an Irish journalist for The Sunday Times, first meets Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster) before his Tour de France debut in 1993. Impressed with his enthusiasm yet wary of his chances, Walsh predicts Armstrong will only make a minor impact in the world of cycling.

Fast forward to 1999, Armstrong has beaten testicular cancer and won the first of his seven consecutive Tour de France titles, as well as launching Livestrong, a charity to help those affected by cancer. Walsh, curious of Armstrong's miraculous recovery and performances, begins to doubt the champion and embarks on a journey to uncover the truth in regards to whether Armstrong was using banned substances to enhance his performance.

With the whole world seeming to side with Armstrong, Walsh faces a lonely battle to unearth the truth and bring both justice and respect back to the sport he loves.

What struck me most about The Program was the extent of Armstrong's deception and the program he and his team imposed to both use and hide the use of performance enhancing drugs. Being a true story, I knew that he had confessed to the use of these substances, I just didn't know how he went about it. The Program was a real eye-opener for me, that's for sure.

Frears' film is precise and wastes no time in trying to paint Armstrong in any good light, in fact the film paints Armstrong in the style of Picasso, his character becoming distorted to the point where he becomes almost unrecognisable. There is no time wasting here and with Walsh's brilliantly titled book, Seven Deadly Sins, being the inspiration for the film, Frears has plenty of ammunition to play with.

The performance of Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong has to go down as one of the best of this year. For a long time, Foster has been impressing in supporting roles, even if the films aren't that good however, The Program marks the first time where Foster gets to take centre stage and he well and truly knocks it out of the park as Armstrong, very much portraying him as the villain of the piece.

There is good support from O'Dowd as the persistent Walsh, taking a step away from the comedy roles you would normally associate him with, and Jesse Plemons as Floyd Landis, a member of Armstrong's team who saw both the good and bad in what Armstrong was doing.

The editing by Valerio Bonelli and Danny Cohen's cinematography of the race sequences perfectly capture just how much of an advantage the drugs gave Armstrong and his team, a task made even more achievable with the fact that Foster was taking performance enhancing drugs while shooting the film.

Armstrong may have been shamed and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles but The Program will bring the story to a whole new audience who may know nothing about his deception. Everything he has ever achieved in sports and with his charity is all based on a lie and Frears' film really powers this home.
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8/10
Riding for a fall
bob-the-movie-man5 November 2015
I can see this film dividing opinion, since bike fanatics (of which the UK has a high number) will seek to pick holes in the reality of the story and staging in the same way that a locomotive fan will point out that the 4472, "Flying Scotsman" shouldn't have been in a film set in 1926! I'm not a keen cyclist, (unless you count pottering around the New Forest occasionally as 'cycling'), so I approached Stephen Frears' new biopic on disgraced superstar Lance Armstrong with some reservations. But I really enjoyed it.

Armstrong is portrayed as a massively competitive individual that won't lose at cycling or table football, and won't die (from cancer) either. The film deftly portrays how this drive for success dragged him, like quicksand, into the world of illicit doping. In fact, for much of the film, given that he mixes all of this up with fervent support for cancer charities, I ended up feeling quite sorry for the guy: someone who knows he is cheating and fooling the world but sees it as a viable means to an end. However as his lying, both about the doping and his personal past achievements, becomes more and more cringe-worthy, he becomes a pathetic figure: this is not a great PR exercise for Armstrong.

Above all, the film is a warning shot against having too much belief in overly self-confident people. There are some people who can claim wrong is right and be believed because they state the case with such vehemence and, as portrayed, Armstrong was certainly one of those. In a year of (alleged) similar sporting performances at FIFA, it's a lesson worth learning.

Armstrong is brought brilliantly to life by lookalike Ben Foster, an actor who I must admit to date has rather passed me by. This performance to me deserves a shot at an Oscar nomination. There are parts of the film where he goes all Eddie "Hawking" Redmayne, but aside from these more physical moments, check out the scene where he comes third: just jaw-droppingly effective acting, mixing incredulity and rage all on the same face at the same time. Very impressed.

Foster is backed up by a strong supporting cast: Chris O'Dowd ("Bridesmaids", "Calvary") plays the Irish journalist David Walsh, doggedly pursuing the doping story. It's a believable performance. Jesse Plemons is also great in the complex role of Floyd Landis, a fellow rider on the team who has to struggle with not only lying to the public but (more painfully) to his Pennsylvanian Amish community. Denis Ménochet ("Inglorious Basterds") is also striking as Johan Bruyneel, Armstrong's coach. While getting strong billing, Dustin Hoffman is great, as always, but has little more than a cameo in the film over a couple of scenes. (And talking of random cameos (though I can't see him credited) did I spot Bond producer Michael G Wilson as Armstrong's doctor?).

The sweeping camera shots of cinematographer Danny Cohen ("Les Miserables", "The King's Speech") brings the cycling scenes to life, and are nicely melded with actual footage of the races. (Though some of the Paris green screen award-giving work is rather less convincing).

Director Stephen Frears ("The Queen", "Philomena") directs, and wisely chooses to keep the film to a compact and entertaining 103 minutes.

This has been a good year for biopics, and following the excellent "Love and Mercy" about Brian Wilson, "The Program" makes it onto my list as one of the top 10 of the year so far. Recommended.

(A graphical version of this review is also available at bob-the-movie- man.com).
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7/10
A solid sports drama flick.............but it's better to watch the documentaries
gricey_sandgrounder24 February 2016
We pretty much know the story of the biggest con in sports history.

A 7-time Tour De France winner after recovering from quite severe level of testicular cancer, to be then stripped of everything he had ever achieved in the sport of cycling due to the use of performance- enhancing drugs.

With all that being said, what could this movie do to give us something different to be excited about?

We have director Stephen Frears (Philomena, Dirty Pretty Things, The Queen) exploring the biggest rise and fall probably by anyone in the history of the world.

I'm afraid that despite the solid pace to it, good performances and pleasing visuals, this only really skimmed the surface of the entire story.

Ben Foster plays Armstrong and it is quite un-nerving how much his likeness is uncanny to the man himself. He was a strong lead and definitely made this film watchable and interesting. Chris O'Dowd as hounding sports journalist David Walsh was solid. But I felt he was massively under-used. I think the makers of the film could have better by going down the route 'Rush' did by having two big characters facing-off throughout the feature. All the performances were fine and noticeable in terms of down- grading the film. The only stand-out worth mentioning was Jesse Plemon's portrayal of Armstrong's main team- mate Floyd Landis. He had moments that got me engaged and made it interesting viewing. One casting choice that I was confused about, was the addition of Dustin Hoffman as we see very little of him. Someone that big in the film industry should not be part of a film if he is going to be in there for very short amounts.

The race scenes look well made. Cinematography is a big high point in the film, especially in the opening scene. And finally, the soundtrack fits in the well with the story despite not being quite a captivating one for re-listening.

However, I cannot ignore the safe route this film went. It always went over the important issues quite casually and quickly went on the next one. It seems Frears wanted to throw too much into film and forgot to focus on keeping one angle to the story. I really felt we should have seen more of the journalist pursuing the star type of film which would have made it a great and enjoyable watch.

Connecting to the film was hard as well. It reminded me of The Wolf Of Wall Street as we are trying to connect with a guy we know has bone really bad things. But unlike the Martin Scorsese flick, the style of film-making is nothing remarkable, just passable.

It is still a well-acted drama flick. For those people that don't know a lot about the story, they will get the most enjoyment out of it. But if you want to a good film about Lance Armstrong and how he became the man he is today, watch the two film documentaries 'The Armstrong Lie' and 'Stop At Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story'. They both go into much more detail on how big of an idiot Armstrong is.
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4/10
to be seen on Lifetime
vistheindian23 November 2015
Quickie Review:

Obsessed with winning the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster) uses performance enhancing substances to gain the edge. Meanwhile, sports journalist David Walsh (Chris O'Dowd) convinced of the doping conspiracy starts to gather evidence to expose Armstrong. The Program, is an underwhelming retelling of the one of the biggest drug scandals in sports history. Admittedly the actor's performances are good, and the movie overall is shot well. However, the script and the story telling are to the quality of what you might expect from an average TV documentary re-enactment.

Full Review:

Considering the high profile nature of the scandal, I was surprised that The Program wasn't marketed more. I never saw the trailers in the cinemas and when I brought up that I was going to watch this movie in the weekend I was immediately asked by everyone "What's that?" After watching the film it's clear to me that even the studio lacked confidence in the final product.

Few as they may be, there are certainly some redeeming things about The Program. The lead actor Ben Foster gave a solid performance, at a certain point I didn't see him anymore and only saw Lance. Which probably is the biggest compliment I'll give to this movie. I also enjoyed seeing the whole doping operation, it was meticulous and systematic. I really got the sense of the lengths that Lance and his team went to achieve their goals. Although it is definitely disgraceful, I must admit I was rather impressed by how for so long they got away with it all. So I commend the filmmakers for pulling off that aspect of the story. As for the rest of the story, there's more to be desired.

You couldn't ask for better true story material for a sports drama. There was huge potential here, but all of it is lost because of the paint by the numbers approach to the film. Rather than concentrating on a singular character and see them transform over the course of the movie, The Program opts to also give significant spotlight to David Walsh and Floyd Landis (Jesse Plemons). This causes the movie to lose focus with each change. The structure of movie made it blatantly obvious that the director and the editor prioritised showing a checklist of major events in Lance's life rather than telling a coherent story. An example of this false priorities was the introduction of Lance's wife. The whole segment of them meeting lasts for about 45 seconds, we get a quick look at a wedding, and that's it, we never see her again for the rest of the movie. That small segment was just there to show Lance got married at one point. It felt completely unnecessary, instead I would love to have seen how this whole operation affected his relationships and friendships.

The Program, is a movie that no-one knows about and unfortunately will be a forgettable experience for the ones who do watch it. I think if I had caught this as a re-enacted documentary on TV, I'd be really impressed. However when it comes to biographically movies in cinemas it just doesn't hold up to the standard set by recent movies such as The Social Network or Selma for example.
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6/10
Lacks Punch
gregsrants20 September 2015
Cyclist Lance Armstrong is a liar. An egomaniac. A delusional celebrity. A jerk. But he's also a cancer survivor and was an inspiration to thousands before the house of cards eventually came tumbling down. In The Program, director Stephen Fears (The Queen, Philomena) explores Armstrong's rise to fame through his historic seven Tour de France victories and the investigation into doping that eventually lead to his downfall. Ben Foster (Lone Survivor, The Mechanic) plays Armstrong. The likeness is a bit uncanny. We watch as a young Armstrong heads to France for the first time as a young cycler who couldn't keep up with the European teams that were eventually caught doping. Armstrong is so determined to become the best in the sport that he solicits the help of known dope doctor Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet). But when Armstrong is diagnosed with testicular cancer, the career takes a small backstep during his recovery. The sidelines made Armstrong even more determined and within a year he and Ferrari were testing new drugs and new methods of cheating which including blood doping – the injection of oxygenated blood into an athlete before an event in an attempt to enhance athletic performance. The results were outstanding and Armstrong was not only beating the competition but destroying them. This catches the eye of sports reporter David Walsh (Chris O'Dowd) who is convinced that Armstrong is less the Superman that people make him out to be and more the product of good chemistry and science. But Walsh is alone in his pursuit of the truth. His publisher is skeptical and his peers alienate Walsh after Armstrong uses his celebrity power to sue and alienate all those associated with a reveal of the truth. Enter one, Floyd Landis (Jesse Plemons of Breaking Bad fame). Floyd is a wide-eyed teammate of Armstrong who immediately tows the line and dopes in an effort to maintain his place within the team. But when Floyd is revealed to have doped after a failed drug test, the wheels begin to come off the Armstrong entourage. Floyd is conflicted with his past and eventually comes clean with the media which only further drops Armstrong's star. The film ends with Armstrong's famous Oprah Winfrey interview where he reveals that he lied and cheated during all 7 Tour wins. The Program is a showcase for Foster who is spectacular in the lead role. O'Dowd too is impressive as the hounding reporter. But the film as a whole fails to do much else than skim the surface. The documentary The Armstrong Lie goes into detail on just how big of an asshole Armstrong was. He threatened wives of teammates calling them 'whores' and 'drunks' on record. He threatened and sued newspapers, lied while being a guest speaker at many black tie events and misrepresented his own charity. The Program only slightly details these facts. It casually brings them up or has quick scenes showing the depth of Armstrong's depravity. But Fears throws too much into the film without focusing on one story. He could have focused on Armstrong's deplorable character. Or made the film a reporters pursuit of the truth. Instead the kitchen sink of a very detailed story is thrown at viewers and it fails to resonate in a way that it should. Armstrong was a fraud. The entire world was duped and we should be angry and reminded of that anger during this biopic. Instead we get more of a movie-of-the-week style of film that fails to dive deep into the conspiracy and show all the scars left in its wake. Still, for those not fully up-to-date in the Armstrong story, The Program is a well-acted entry into the rise and fall. It's just a very involving one.
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7/10
Falls short of its potential but still mostly entertaining.
Sergeant_Tibbs24 October 2015
On paper, the life of Lance Armstrong lends itself to a cinematic interpretation quite nicely, but The Program, Stephen Frears' restless, showy Armstrong biopic, feels undercooked and premature. Though Ben Foster's Armstrong jokes about Hollywood's plan for a movie about his life (complete with smirky mispronunciations of Jake Gyllenhaal), his against-the-odds underdog tale was never going to be the more compelling film compared to the true story. It's a small mystery as to why Frears decides to play the first half hour of The Program in such a headspace, urging us to cheer for an idealized version of the famed cyclist despite the inevitable mess that awaits us just around the corner. Such an unnecessary sprawl as we turn through a run-of-the-mill rise-through-the-ranks before the downfall is unkind to detail; instead, it feels like a compromise to make the whole thing go down easier for those unaware of the controversy, and thus the film is probably not quite as invested in the scandals in the first place.

Though The Program is clumsy in its execution and handling of loaded material, it nails its depiction of key moral dilemmas surrounding not just Armstrong's doping scandal that eventually stripped him of his professional accolades–including his seven Tour de France titles– but also effectively ended his athletic career with a worldwide ban from most competitive sports. If Chris O'Dowd's journalist, David Walsh, takes down Lance Armstrong, which he spends the majority of the film trying to do, he's taking down not only massive and respectable cancer charities associated with Armstrong, but also the integrity of the sport itself. The film acknowledges that most cyclists were doping at the time, but it tries to shave down its theme to that point while ignoring juicier social commentary regarding our misguided hero worship culture and how we react to the controversies. There's a lot of meat to chew on that remains untouched on the plate, but perhaps Frears already felt his hands full up with a narrative that's far more focused on the interplay between Armstrong and the man determined to expose his skeletons.

As Armstrong, Foster has the drive, the resemblance, and he can balance light and dark in a way that fits the conflicted tone of the man in reality and the fictionalized version of him. It's a shame, for the most part, that Foster tries too hard for too little payoff, almost desperately searching for Oscar clips, but it's John Hodge's screenplay that ultimately lets him down hard, indulging in trite lines that stick out. In a sense, it fits the Armstrong mantra to be over- rehearsed and only approaching an aura of naturalness, though it doesn't work for Foster. His performance here is similar to Anne Hathaway's in Les Miserables, but he's rarely offered the emotional potency to justify his tone. It's still good work, he's just operating on a different gear to everyone else when he should be leading the pack. While the tone of the film feels like easy resort, at the very least it does a good job of showing the gravity of Armstrong's actions and the gravity of Walsh's accusations.

While Foster may falter, The Program boasts a strong ensemble overall, which also includes Dustin Hoffman, Lee Pace, and Jesse Plemons. O'Dowd made his name in the tongue-in-cheek TV riot The IT Crowd, but he's hard to take seriously in dramas or comedies in both America or Britain. He consistently feels like a novelty more than a talent. Here, he's toe-to-toe with Foster and showing his dramatic potential. While he has one note to play (determined exasperation), he plays it well and pleasantly engages us. Plemons has another underused snitch role to play (to reference his brief turn in Black Mass this year) and brings that same quiet menace that made his Todd on Breaking Bad so magnetic. It's also nice to see Denis Menochet, most memorable in the opening of Inglourious Basterds, to have a meatier role spread across an entire film here as Armstrong's trainer.

Despite its shortcomings, The Program is still largely entertaining, if not enthralling, which it earnestly tries to be. The whiplash editing of its various race sequences would have worked had the film itself been gunning for a darker subtext, but they're left to hang on the screen and thrill in the moment. The film's lowest point, however, is its on-the-nose rota of soundtrack choices. It feels too needy, whereas the rest of the film can get away with what it's doing. Unfortunately, the film's narrative ends far too early. Anyone who has seen Alex Gibney's excellent The Armstrong Lie knows that there's an extra side to the story, and a compelling third act that The Program isn't interested in digging through. In fairness, it's not trying to be "that movie," but what it does dramatize is mostly good enough.

7/10

Read more @ Serving Cinema (http://www.servingcinema.com/)
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6/10
Biopic of Lance Armstrong that is rather good
t-dooley-69-3869169 March 2016
This is the story of Lance Armstrong and is based on the book by journalist David Walsh called "Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong". Walsh worked for The Sunday Times and is played by the brilliant Chris O'Dowd in the film. Walsh was one of the few who questioned the phenomenal rise of Armstrong from mediocre hill climber to King of the mountains and unbeatable in The Tour de France.

Now the story is full of lies and deceit and evil doings and as such you would think it was full of Machiavellian twists – but no; it seems a bit flat to be honest. The story is interesting but seems to lack the oomph moments to bring it to anything approaching a dramatic crescendo.

I think half the problem is that we all know the story by now and so there is not that much to reveal and we have already gotten truly over our initial shock and disgust at what was a crime the perpetuated for years and corrupted so many – so called- athletes. Having said all that I really enjoyed it. Ben Foster puts in an excellent performance as the duplicitous Armstrong and was even convincing in the cancer bits and the double dealing lies. So one that rises from being above 'ok' but do not expect to be blown away.
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7/10
An interesting, if not plain, biopic
themadmovieman19 October 2015
This is a pretty interesting biopic, with strong performances across the board and a pretty engaging story. However, it's nothing particularly outstanding, due to its evident holding back against really going after Armstrong. Yes, this is still a pretty scathing story, but it still all feels far too plain and simple, and there's never any real gusto in the writing to make you passionately dislike Armstrong, which the movie is trying to do.

But before we get into that, let's look at the most impressive part of this film, which are the performances. Ben Foster, as Lance Armstrong, is brilliant, and often terrifying and hateful to the extent that you really want the movie to show you, and without him doing such a good job in the role, this film would have been at a loss, given his incredible acting.

In the side role as the journalist determined to take Armstrong down, Chris O'Dowd is also pretty good. It's not a world-beating performance that makes you want to whole-heartedly will the man onto revealing Armstrong's lies, but he is a likable character, and one of the only ones that can firmly support in the whole film.

The way that this film tells the history of Armstrong's deception is also very interesting. Although it's all in recent memory for most of us, there's still a lot of information here that you didn't know about, particularly revolving around the inner workings of Armstrong's United States Postal Service team and how he was the ring leader in the world of doping in cycling.

However, that's about it. This film is definitely interesting and well-acted, but it's not an outstanding, memorable biopic. It feels more like reading a very interesting textbook cover-to-cover, full of fascinating information, but with no real high drama or emotion to fully show the significance of what's going on, and to really pull you into the story rather than just observing it.
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2/10
The seven deadly sins of David Walsh and Stephen Frerars
tingledeng17 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
My review is very much written from the point of view of a cycling fan and rider who has followed the story for nearly 2 decades. I have to declare that I have a more sympathetic and favourable view of Lance Armstrong and Michele Ferrari than others.

Overall, The Program is a flawed and poorly researched biopic full of inaccuracies and misconceptions. The movie tries to cram a lot of events over 13 years in without presenting it in a clear and coherent way for the audience.

The film is almost wholly one sided and does not tell the whole story. Its protagonist, David Walsh is portrayed as an innocent journalist who walked into the evidence rather than someone who spent a decade trying to destroy Armstrong and cycling through methods not too dissimilar to its key antagonist. The story does not tell of how Walsh harassed, pushed and entrapped some of the witnesses including the Andreus into a corner and force them to come out against Lance and their friends against their will. It also glorifies irresponsible journalism, Walsh wrote the damning LA Confidentiel without hard evidence and purely basing on his gut, accounts from his sources and inadmissible evidence. The fact that he turned out to be largely right does not make him a hero or what he did to be right and the film does not reflect that in anyway. I won't go into the Armstrong story in too much detail except to say that Lance was portrayed as the doper and at times the only one driving the doping. The fact is everyone of his rivals doped and he was as much of a product of his time and situation than anything else.

The science and history behind the story was so lazy and badly researched it was laughable. If VO2max is the only determinant of performance, why do we bother having the races and wouldn't young Oskar Svendsen be the most successful rider ever? Then the film celebrates the fact that Walsh predicted he would be a great one day rider and he couldn't win races in Europe...when the truth was Armstrong at the time when he first met Walsh was already world champion, the most prestigious one day race in the world and had won it in Oslo before his 22nd birthday.

Finally, it is a real shame the way Michele Ferrari was portrayed...in essence like a shady drug pusher with a French accent. Canet looks like a villain from the 60s Batman than a middle aged Italian physician. The real world truth is that Michele Ferrari is the most brilliant sports physician of his time, his methods may or may not have been ethical but his aim was like many human scientists to push boundary of our race and in the spirit of how we evolved through the ages. Check out his articles on 53x12.com, even the public research and knowledge and new ground is so inspirational and insightful it is quite amazing.

The truth is I see The Program as a fable on modern media, where it has the power to build you up and then tear you down if it sells. Cycling has paid for its sins many times over but it is by no means the dirtiest sport, the standards of testing and controls even back in the really dark ages of the 80s and 90s is so much ahead of other sports like NFL, soccer, athletics, tennis etc. I will always love the sport of cycling both as a fan and as a rider, it enriches so many people's lives that I really hate people who tries to destroy it, especially to create headlines and sell newspapers/books.
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6/10
solid acting and functional
SnoopyStyle1 May 2016
It's 1993 and Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster) is in his first Tour in France. Irish sports journalist David Walsh (Chris O'Dowd) is both following and rooting for the competitive new American wonderboy. After initial losses, he and his teammates start using enhancements. The team starts winning but then he's diagnosed with cancer. After his tiring treatments, he gets help from Dr. Michele Ferrari who is experimenting outside the ethical lines. Bill Stapleton (Lee Pace) organizes the deal with US Postal. Walsh starts to suspect that something is amiss. God-fearing Floyd Landis (Jesse Plemons) is hired to help Armstrong and he takes over after Lance. Betsy Andreu recounts a moment with Armstrong and her husband. Armstrong decides to defend against his detractors by attacking them.

Despite the great actors and solid work, this still has a biopic feel in the structure of the movie. It follows the story faithfully. The truthfulness seems to be there. Ben Foster does nice work inhabiting the role although I'm not sure if it dives into his mind enough. It would be helpful to add something from before his Tour and doping life. Walsh's crusade is more compelling. The second half of the movie is more compelling. It is generally missing the drama and the thrills. I'm also not certain if this gets any special insight into Armstrong's character. It's a functional biopic but the material is ready for much more.
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5/10
Ego, Fraud, Dope
ferguson-618 March 2016
Greetings again from the darkness. The fallen king. The disgraced idol. We expect there to be more to the story of Lance Armstrong, but the bottom line is really pretty simple. Lance Armstrong is a liar. Lance Armstrong is a fraud. The movie offers little in the way of excuses or explanations, and you'll likely think even less of Armstrong after the movie … if that's even possible.

Ben Foster turns in a nice performance and is believable as Lance the cyclist, Lance the teammate, and Lance the doper. But even Foster can't quite capture the public façade or reach the level of deception that the real life Lance maintained for years. Chris O'Dowd is spot on as David Walsh, the sportswriter who wrote the book on which the film is based, "Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong". In fact, the movie would likely have been more interesting had it focused on Walsh's research and pursuit, rather than re-hashing the all too familiar Armstrong deceit.

Director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity, The Grifters) works with the screenplay from John Hodge (Trainspotting) and we see how Lance battled through testicular cancer and later sought out Dr. Ferrari (Guillaume Canet) – the Godfather of blood doping. We get many shots of the familiar yellow jersey during numerous Tour de France races, and we hear Lance pontificate on what sets him apart: desire, hunger, heart and soul, and guts. Later we hear his proclamation of innocence followed by "I'm the most tested athlete on the face of the planet".

Jesse Plemons ("Breaking Bad", "Fargo") has slimmed down and plays the crucial role of Floyd Landis – a devout Mennonite, Lance teammate, and the final straw in the crumbling of an empire. It's Landis who broke "the silence around cycling", and forced an industry and the public to accept what most of us hoped against all hope wasn't true.

Armstrong's infamous "Oprah" appearance and public admission brought poignancy to his own words: "We are the authors of our life stories." Perhaps this lesson is as valuable as all the money Livestrong raised for cancer research. Picturesque Hamilton Pool in Austin makes an appearance, as do songs from The Ramones, The Fall ("Mr. Pharmacist") and Leonard Cohen. While the film is not at the level of Alex Gibney's documentary "The Armstrong Lie", it is a reminder that real life can be more dramatic and devastating than the movie version.
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8/10
No personal touch..increases GK...fails to impact hearts..Ben Foster is Marvellous
suprabhattacharya14 September 2018
The Program(2015)

The film deals with the dope controversy around Lance Armstrong(Ben Foster)which was triggered initially by an Irish reporter David Walsh(Chris O'Dowd). Armstrong is brought brilliantly to life by Ben Foster.The performance is genuine and Foster is physically and mentally the controversial cyclist in every aspect.The lust to win at any cost be it hook or by crook is the objective of Lance Armstrong,and Foster has nailed every bit of it, be it with his body language or his emotional breakdown whenever seeing a cancer patient.The film doesn't portray Armstrong a hero or nor the character was justified for taking drugs, he is shown from the pov of a third person.His personal life is not brought into light neither his struggles during his cancer period which if portrayed, certainly the film will have been better.

David Walsh is played well by Chris Odow'd. Actually the film is based on a book by David Walsh.The performance which also struck the right chords is of Jesse Plemons who plays here the character Of Floyd Landis, another fellow cyclist who is quite a complex character.Plemons is on to his best in the role.The film lacks the depth that usually these ports drama do and sometimes looks like a documentary but it actually put more shame to the character of Lance Armstrong..A man who became the symbol of hope from dope.
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6/10
The Program
Argemaluco31 March 2017
Before watching The Program, I said to myself: "It's always the same. I think I'm not going to like a sports movie because I'm not interested in the sport in question, but I generally end up liking them because the sport is just an excuse to tell stories about internal strength and triumph over adversity". And, to a certain point, my prediction was true; however, I unfortunately didn't end up liking The Program very much. Don't misunderstand me. The Program is well acted and solidly directed by Stephen Frears, who keeps a sober point of view which doesn't judge Lance Armstrong for his bad ethic decisions, even though they aren't justified either; Frears just shows the facts with the talented vision which distinguishes his filmography (by the way, my favorite films of it so far are Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity and Dirty Pretty Things). Regarding the cast, Ben Foster brings a solid performance, playing Armstrong in a pragmatic and realistic way, while the rest of the cast also makes a good work, highlighting Chris O'Dowd and Guillaume Canet. So, why wasn't I left very satisfied by The Program? Because I didn't find the story particularly interesting. It might be so for the fans of cycling, but the facts are so simple and linear that they could have been told in 10 minutes of documentary footage. In other words, the story lacked the necessary "punch" in order to capture my emotions; or maybe, I was right from the beginning, and the problem was my ignorance regarding everything related to cycling. Anyway, I think I can give it a slight recommendation mostly to fans or haters of Armstrong's and to those who like cycling. For the rest of the audience, better read the article on Wikipedia; the effect will be the same as the one I had while watching this movie, with the difference that you will have to invest much less time.
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6/10
Okay, but a missed opportunity.
sacha_brady17 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Understandably, the film had to be about Lance Armstrong from start to finish for commercial reasons, but having watched it I felt the film would have been so much more powerful if it had been completely told from Floyd Landis' perspective as long as the same character- led approach was taken by the director instead of a narrative-led one.

I have some knowledge of the Tour de France in the period depicted as well as the environment of the time, although I'm no expert. Time limitations mean that films have no choice but to leave out key moments, but my enjoyment and appreciation of the film was tarnished by the fact that so much of the context is compromised in favour of a sole focus on the personage of Lance Armstrong.

The film lacks drama due to ignoring the mounting suspicion that followed him throughout his reign and the fact that much of the public already doubted him, not least the French, which he had to face wherever he went. What went into that is much more fascinating than the story given, of a man who found a pharmacist and then hid it.

I also feel that the film fails in its primary goal: giving you an insight into Lance Armstrong. Evidence suggests he was far more single-minded and almost psychopathic than the film allows us to see. Either do a character study on Lance Armstrong or tell a story of his rise and fall. This film tries to do both and succeeds in neither in my view.

The film's worth watching if you're particularly interested in Lance Armstrong. If not, there are many far better movies to explore. This comes across like a made-for-TV drama. It's sad because I really like Lee Pace. I'd far recommend watching "The Armstrong Lie" instead.
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5/10
Surprisingly weak film given the material
mattjames19731 August 2018
I'm a cycling fan and a film lover. I cheered for Armstrong, followed his downfall, read all the books (Walsh, Hamilton, Landis etc). The true story has plenty of drama and incredible characters. However, this movie, which I really wanted to like, is a rather anaemic version of that story. Ben Foster works hard but just isn't as impactful, as imposing or as dramatic as Armstrong himself. Events move too quickly to really get the measure of them. Perhaps it's too big a story to tell, but the documentary versions do better.
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7/10
Good movie but......
goreilly407 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
As a sports fan, this movie involving one of the darkest scandals in its history was something I had to see. Having watch it, I can say I enjoyed it but felt as though it could have been better and the story could have had more depth to it. Ben Foster is nothing short of a revelation in his portrayal of the controversial figure of Lance Armstrong and his many faces, the public charismatic sportsman and champion in the fight against cancer to the behind the scenes ruthless bully who threatened to destroy anyone or anything who got in his way. Likewise Chris O'Dowd as the journalist David Walsh who steadfast refused to give into intimidation and didn't allow himself to be fooled by the deception. Jesse Plemons performance as the conflicted Floyd Landis who played a key role in the investigation was also a positive for the movie, likewise Dustin Hoffman as Bob Hamman.

One issue I had with the movie was the skimming over of a few key events. Not the cycling as such, but the USADA investigation which would expose the extent of Armstrong's cheating, Armstrong's legal attempts to block it, and the death threats issued to those involved were covered almost as an after thought near the end of the movie, this should've been given more time in the movie as it was a key element in the whole affair.

One frustrating aspect of this movie was almost the complete omission of two key players in the story, Greg LeMond, the ex-TDF winner who was almost ruined by Armstrong because he dared to speak out against him, and Travis Tygart, the head of the USADA investigation which ultimately exposed the doping scandal, who as previously mentioned was subjected to a number of death threats, were barely mentioned. Considering the part they played in the whole saga, this was a big error on the part of the movie.

This movie was enjoyable and fascinating, but I felt it was partially undermined by skimming over several key events and the omission of some key people.
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5/10
Overall good movie, but plenty of mistakes evident
minisnibo28 November 2015
Coming from a cyclist I was keen to see the movie, and to be honest came out disappointed. The lack of research done was clearly evident, as the film had so many wrongs in it. For example cyclist done look like big rugby players, however in the film they did. When they showed Lance with his top off it was laughable and when Alberto Contador came on screen i actually did laugh he is tiny. The Flech Wallonne race doesn't race on cobbles but in the film it did, also cyclist don't actually race from the get go there is a neutralised zone however when the gun went off they started racing with the favorite's attacking right away (even on EPO you would never attack from the start). Lastly among the list of errors is the use of props why was lance wearing Oakley radars these weren't invented in 1999, in real life he wore Oakley m frames. These are the major errors in the film and they took away from it i'm disappointed about the research put into the film.
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3/10
Documentaries are way better
typhoon7424 May 2016
If you have watched this movie, or thinking about it, its probably because you are more than average interested in the Lance Armstrong story. And then again if you are, you have probably watched the documentaries as well - and they are far better than this movie.

For example "Stop at Nothing The Lance Armstrong Story" - which this movie seem to be a poor copy of. Its as if they watched that documentary and thought "hey, this is a great story, lets make a movie about it!". Just too bad the story was already told in a far better way, with the real people involved.

Say what you want about Ben Foster, but all the scenes he was involved in in this movie has already been done by Lance himself in the documentaries. And what could possibly beat that?

The only thing that impressed me about this movie was Jesse Plemons. He actually looked like a pro biker. Unless he was photo shopped!

Watch the documentaries instead, this is a waste of time.
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7/10
A look behind the glamour of the Tour de France – and it ain't pretty
manders_steve29 November 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Documentary type films about recent events have the challenge of showing something more than just detail that confirms or denies long held suspicions. This film about Lance Armstrong's winning the Tour de France for a record seven times, and all the assistance from sports medicine he and his US Postal Service team mates sought and mostly willingly received, easily meets that challenge, from two dimensions. First, it provides a clear and candid view into the team buses, sports medicine clinics and sports anti-doping agencies that are the prime locations for what went on, and most likely still does in many parts of professional sport.

But real strength comes is in the new insights from the story of David Walsh, the Irish journalist who doggedly follows the story for the best part of a decade, and the media interests who back him despite the lack of evidence of substance.

I found the cycling scenes convincing, as a recreational and occasional commuter cyclist, and TV viewer of the Tour de France. Ben Foster looks remarkably like Armstrong and inhabits both the physical cycling but even more so the dramatic and narrative parts of the show. It captures Armstrong's presence when selling his message from his cancer experiences, when promoting the Lance Armstrong Foundation for Cancer (LiveStrong) and his unshakable demonstration of his own self belief.

The important members of the supporting cast were strong, including Chris O'Dowd as journalist David Walsh who first suspects all is not as it appears, and Jesse Plemons as Floyd Landis, cycling team mate who finally decided to tell all to authorities when Armstrong failed to provide support in return for all Landis did for Armstrong on and off their bikes. But to me the standout was Guillaume Canet as Dr Michele Ferrari, the medical intellect behind 'The Program'.

The film isn't comfortable viewing – I found it quite disturbing for all the hard-nosed opportunism and lack of regard for reasonable fair play. This sense is probably underscored by the largely one sided story telling that telegraphs where it is seeking to go from the start. There is no attempt to present other perspectives, explanations or try to unravel the moral complexities. But the film at 1 hr 43 min is a comfortably taut length for the ground it covers, and adding more dimensions could have upset that balance.
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7/10
I actually liked this movie more than I expected & even though it didn't really drop any bombshells its very much worth seeing.
cosmo_tiger9 April 2016
"If we keep cheering loud enough maybe it will go away and no one will ever hear the unwelcome question. Is this real, or is it dope?" Lance Armstrong (Foster) is the greatest cyclist in history. He wins the Tour de France year after year and has become the poster boy for the sport. Everyone loves him and is inspired by him and what he stands for. David Walsh (O'Dowd) begins to wonder how he wins so easily and suspects that it isn't legit. This is a story that everyone knows the basics of. What I didn't know was how early he was suspected, and how everyone wanted to hide it and not talk about it. Walsh really took heat for suggesting what was happening but stuck with it. Armstrong was as smooth as he could be in dodging and deflecting the questions about his use. I actually liked this movie a lot more than I expected to and even though it didn't really drop any bombshells it is still interesting and very much worth seeing. Overall, a movie that is entertaining and very much worth seeing even though everyone knows what happened. I actually recommend this. I give this a B.
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8/10
An Efficient Excercise in Deprogramming
in198417 January 2016
8.1 of 10. Not quite up to Foxcatcher (2014), but close. The writer John Hodge and director Stephen Frears should have been the team for American Sniper (2014). They would have made it a more action intense and smarter film than the piece of whining military propaganda Eastwood turned it into, while still being sympathetic to the hero/anti-hero.

Even though this isn't a strict documentary, they do integrate clips of reality and the races very well into the film so that everything morphs together well. Bike racers and Tour de France fans should appreciate it even if it's not a pure sports hero-worship film.

Combine this film with Pawn Sacrifice (2015) and you have a true perspective into the competitive insanity the USA endorses and pushes under the vale of freedom, purity, and god.

The only people who won't enjoy this are hardcore Lance Armstrong fanboys/girls, and maybe people still trying to sell their original Livestrong bracelets as collectors items will be a little upset too.
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5/10
The Lance Armstrong biopic that isn't actually about Lance Armstrong
JPfanatic9322 November 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Whoever considers this 'the Lance Armstrong' film is wrong, despite it being the only non documentary feature film about the former sports legend thus far. Thing is, at its core it's not about the seven-time Tour de France winner. It's about the journalist who exposed him after years of persistent digging. It's even based on the guy's book. So naturally, Armstrong isn't depicted in a flattering way and that's putting it mildly. The infamous cyclist is portrayed as an absolutely single minded, appallingly arrogant fraud throughout the piece, with little to no redeeming character qualities. Simply said, a total jerk. Now, of course nobody will deny that aspect of his character exists. But it can't have been all he ever was/is. After all, he became an inspiration for millions. With the solely negative traits he's endowed with in this film, it's not likely he would ever have been that widely admired. But to the brave, heroic journalist who risked his career and maybe even his life to bring the man down, Armstrong was utterly evil. So that's the Armstrong we get on screen. An Armstrong devoid of nuances, a character from somebody else's pages rather than his own book of life. Which rules The Program out as the biopic it claims to be. But then, history is written by the victors. Which Armstrong himself ultimately didn't rightly turn out to be.

More was to be expected from director Stephen Frears. His previous work showed him most interested in the human side of things, the choices and thoughts that make people who they are, rather than who they seem to be to the rest of the world. The Queen is the best example, where he showed the Queen of England to be just as limited a human being as the rest of us, and therefore a relatable character. The same doesn't hold true for Lance Armstrong, who is portrayed far too one sided and excessively obsessed a character to feel really real. Good performances not withstanding, since Ben Foster does an intense job at playing the star cyclist. Perhaps too much so, going over that top rather than staying right under it. Of course, Chris O'Dowd gives less of a notable performance, thus making him feel more real in the role of the intrepid reporter, which also makes him feel more human than his antagonist, as is the film's intention. And when you say O'Dowd, comedy is the first thing that springs to mind. The Program often feels like it is just that, especially in its first half. After all, we shouldn't take one of the greatest frauds ever too seriously, the film suggests. Too bad, I would have loved to have seen a movie that explains just why Armstrong did the things he did, rather than this film which only shows what those things were (which we basically already knew), rather than their motivations. But why would we need to know why a total jerk does what a total jerk does, right?
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8/10
Very underrated sports biopic
peterrichboy13 March 2017
I have been really surprised by the number of negative reviews of this movie. I've never really been a fan of cycling or the Tour De France, but I was always fascinated in how Lance Armstrong was able to cheat his way to 7 tour victories. And I think Stephen Frears has done a superb job of explaining the lengths Armstrong and his team mates went to,to beat the testers. Ben Foster is superb as Armstrong to the point I almost felt it was him, whilst Chris O Dowd is equally believable as the much maligned journalist who always new the truth. One of the best sports movies in recent memory 8/10
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7/10
The Program Leans on Its Cast and an Interesting Story to Make up for a Few Things
CANpatbuck366417 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Lance Armstrong had a pretty drastic fall from grace. He was synonymous with athletes like Michael Jordan, Joe Montana and Serena Williams. Then the news came out about what he had done to win those 7 Tour De Frances and his legacy crumbled overnight. It definitely seemed like an appropriate subject to do a biopic about so I remembered The Program when I got the chance to catch it on DVD. I would have thought that this movie would have got some more attention, Ben Foster has always seemed like he was one key role from being an A list star. So this was the kind of project that might get him there. The Program opened in a limited release to a decidedly mixed reception and while I'm happy to talk about it, I think I'm going to echo what other reviewers have said. This is an absorbing story of betrayal and deception but the movie seemed very eager to tell it's own version of events instead of presenting a more unbiased look at Lance Armstrong's story.

*Minor Spoilers Ahead* Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster) is just starting out and he's meeting up with journalist David Walsh (Chris O'Dowd) to discuss his team and his chances. They bond over a game of Foosball and David is impressed with Lance. Lance is behind the curve though and is looking for an edge. This leads him to Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet). Ferrari is reluctant to take him on, he doesn't have the optimal body type and his requirements are below Ferrari's standards. Lance claims he'll do what it takes and when Ferrari is about to take him on and Lance begins to succeed, he gets diagnosed with testicular cancer and his fight to get to the top takes on a whole new challenge.

Ben Foster has always been underrated in the way that he's always providing solid supporting work in bigger projects. He throws a lot into his performance as Lance Armstrong. He's painted as a complete villain and Foster is up to the task, radiating arrogance and spitting venom at whoever gets in his way. I also really liked Chris O'Dowd as David Walsh, he's clearly the white knight in the movie. His character is single-minded and also arrogant but he doesn't overplay it and you get where he's coming from. I was impressed with the supporting cast: Jesse Plemons, Guillaume Canet, Denis Ménochet, Lee Pace and Dustin Hoffman all fit within the movie nicely and there wasn't a sub-par performance in the bunch.

The Program does a good job of dramatizing the story of Lance Armstrong. I had a couple of issues with how they decided to tell it (more on that later) but I remained interested in the movie throughout. If you're familiar with Lance's story even a little bit, you might know it didn't come to a clean end and the fallout was pretty severe. The movie borders on being a thriller with him hiding drugs and circumventing the regulatory bodies. You probably know how this story ends but that didn't bother me, the ending was a little anti-climactic but the movie achieved what it wanted to achieve.

The Program just had one big flaw for me. This movie picks sides almost immediately and does almost everything it can to make you hate Armstrong. I understand that there is inherent bias in everything and it's not the movie's job to present this subject like a documentary. It's based on true events, as opposed to reporting the facts. But The Program doesn't even approach being objective. I'm also saying this while largely being on The Program's side. Reports about Lance Armstrong describe his behaviour as bordering on psychotic and completely obsessive and his achievements are now tainted because of his cheating. But the guy did raise millions of dollars for cancer research and he revitalized cycling. It's okay to not be completely down the middle but you have to compensate by making an excellent film (e.g. Snowden) and for me this movie didn't hit those heights.

I would re-iterate that The Program did present an interesting story and made it dramatic enough to be entertaining. It just didn't reach high enough to hit iconic biopic status and it was a little embarrassing to what lengths they drove this movie trying to sway viewer opinion. I think they would have been better served diving deeper into Lance's motivations and showing the complete picture around his life. With that said, this was still worth a watch to see Ben Foster giving it his all and learning some of the finer points around Armstrong's story.
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7/10
To the point, and it works
jtindahouse10 November 2016
I remember when the whole Lance Armstrong story broke that he was going to confess there were a lot of differing opinions on the matter. A surprisingly high percentage of people seemed to see nothing wrong with what he did, and would have been happy for him to keep his Tour de France titles. Personally, I have zero interest in cycling. To me it is possibly the dullest sport known to man, and I couldn't care less about the athletes and what they're doing. The Armstrong case caught my attention though. Because here was a man who had cheated his way to the top, and yet clearly had zero conscience about what he had done. Now that takes a really sick type of person. Sure, he eventually came out and admitted all, but you could tell he was only saying these things because he was backed into a corner. The quote at the end of this film from 2015 stating that he still believes he won those titles, sums him up to me. Pure scum.

The movie itself was entertaining enough. It chose to take a very dry and almost reenactment-style approach. It's not like your typical film where relationships are formed over a period of time and conflicts are dealt with as they arise. Instead, 'The Program' just gives us the facts of the story, and that's that. I didn't actually mind the style though. I would've been angry if the film was an extra 20 minutes long because they needed to show how he came to fall in love with his wife. It certainly wouldn't work for every type of film, but for this it did the trick quite nicely.

I had trouble buying into Ben Foster as Armstrong. They have a very similar face, but Foster just doesn't come across as an athlete to me. His acting itself was impressive enough, considering this wasn't really a film that's ever going to give an actor a lot of scenes to show off what he has. 'The Program' is a film that will entertain and inform anyone who has an interest in the Lance Armstrong story, that's for sure. However, for anyone who couldn't care less, I'd advise staying away.
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