Between 1996 and 2005, Lance Armstrong beat cancer and won the Tour de France seven consecutive times. As a result, he become one the the greatest athletes of all time and forged a global empire. But it was all a lie. Armstrong’s seven Tour victories were courtesy of a highly elaborate, secretive and illegal doping program. In 2012, when he finally admitted his guilt after not only over a decade of publicly and privately championing his innocence, whilst also bringing down those who questioned his talent, his confession was made public. I was there, you were there, Oprah Winfrey was there, and so was the rest of the world watching in shock and awe as everything we knew was true but hoped wasn’t, was all laid bare.
Lance was stripped of his Tour victories, given a life-time ban from cycling and any and all books written about him were relegated to the fiction section of libraries and bookstores. His legacy had now become a tale of infamy. Since his downfall there have been new books, new stories, new documentaries - and now there’s a feature film, ‘The Program’.
Movies such as this are forced to walk a very hard, fine line - basing it on sworn testimony and David Walsh’s book, the film’s need to be truthful and accurate forgoes the artistic license needed to make the film entertaining. ‘The Program’ recreates parts of the Oprah interview, press conferences as well as quotes and incidences described directly in testimonies. So here’s the thing: we’ve seen it all before. We’ve heard it all before. It’s all public knowledge and record. This story captivated the world and almost brought down an entire sport. It was not small. It was not overlooked.
The film’s need to be truthful and accurate forgoes the artistic license needed to make the film entertaining.
Supported by genuinely talented performance by Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd and the rest of the supporting cast, the film is let down by turning it into a glorified reenactment. The story is also split between three different characters; Armstrong (Foster), David Walsh (O’Dowd) and Floyd Landis (Jesse Plemons), meaning no one tale gets the full treatment; instead we get three incomplete stories all worthy of their own film.
'The Program' is surprisingly unbiased - which given Armstrong’s 100% guilt, is odd, unsettling and almost gives an air of justification to his actions. This isn’t a documentary, this is a feature film made for entertainment purposes... someone just forgot to tell the filmmakers.