MOVIE REVIEW: The Program (2015)

“The Program” Review
Directed by Stephen Frears
Screenplay by John Hodge, based on the book by David Walsh

Lance Armstrong was not a man known to many Filipinos due to the fact that even with the knowledge that a lot of our people indulge in biking as a sport, it’s not exactly a national pastime. In fact, biking is usually considered simply as a way to transport one’s self from Point A to Point B. But for those in the know, he was considered an icon. A hero. A God. Until he was proven as a fake and a cheat.

The Program relays the story of Lance Armstrong’s (played by an almost unrecognizable Ben Foster) rise from unlikely upstart to a reigning seven-time Le Tour de France champion.

The film itself was based off David Walsh’s (Chris O’Dowd) book Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, and rightly enough since Walsh was instrumental to opening everyone’s eyes to the truth that Lance is just too good to be true.

The film was fast-paced and did not mince words about Armstrong’s apparent will to not lose no matter what, at any cost. His speech about us being “the own authors of our own life story” and “going out there and writing the best damn story you can” is simply his own way of describing what he’s doing privately, in his own life, to succeed. If he can’t go public on what he is really doing, then why not make an inspirational speech out of it, right?

Assisting his meteoric rise to fame is sports doctor Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet), a doctor so excited and enthusiastic about “finally going far beyond the limits of physiology.” He serves as Armstrong and his team’s dealer of performance enhancing drugs, mainly EPO (Erythropoietin), a drug that increases oxygen-carrying capacity, thereby assisting the team with steep mountain climbs.

Also playing an important role on the film is Floyd Landis (Jesse Plemons), an ex-team mate of Armstrong’s who decided to come open about his doping and its prevalence in the sport of cycling. Being thrown under the bus by Armstrong after requesting to be included in his new team is also the catalyst to his confession, which led to Armstrong’s eventual downfall.

Lee Pace (Thranduil, The Hobbit) plays a small role as Armstrong’s agent and general manager of the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling team. Dustin Hoffman also has a cameo and plays Bob Hamman, an American professional bridge player, which is a mostly forgettable character and does not really do much to enrich the story in itself.

Essentially, the film plays out like a cat-and-mouse chase, with Walsh doing his best to expose Armstrong as a fraud despite his very own colleagues going against him (due to pressure from Armstrong’s camp), and Armstrong playing the suave, calm, and composed master liar slithering his way into the hearts of people with his charm and appeal. And oh. Let’s not forget his cancer shield. Ever since he recovered from testicular cancer, he has used his recovery from the disease as a trump card against any attempt at his honor.

However imperfect the delivery, The Program still teaches viewers a lesson derived from Armstrong’s own personal life: Absolutely no one can stop you from getting what you want in life. But to get it through cheating? Like Lance said in one of his speeches, “It’s a long way down.”