There is very little new to learn about the Lance Armstrong debacle, and if you come to this film looking for scoop you’ve come to the wrong place. The Program is the Lance story dramatized, and in this dramatization lies its merit. Stephen Frears focuses on the experience of cycling, the firey danger of it, its speed and frenzy; and a cheating experience that is pointedly nonchalant. Imagery is sharp: speedy downhill jaunts, blood being coughed up in a shower, clips of the real Lance interspersed seamlessly with constructed footage of Ben Foster playing Lance in a performance that is the crux of this film. Lance and his team spend much of the film hooked up to blood bags, injecting and openly discussing their cheating. So openly, in fact, that there are sections during the tour when cyclists line up beside one another and discuss the endemic. Not exactly what I would call stylish storyboarding. This kind of cheesiness is what lets the film down. The storyline moves too fast at times; doesn’t delve deeply enough, doesn’t tell enough. It is as if by insisting on telling the whole story (from beginning to end) it leaves out the real meat of the story. There is no Paul Kimmage, the focus on Lance’s psychosis, denial, anger etc. (although insistent) is less detailed than it could be, and the role of the massage therapist and other whistleblowers is muted. But this film does tell the story. Perhaps if it were a fictional story, the film would be engaging. But then – I don’t think I would believe it, if it were fiction. The antihero/hero – the person from whom all the backlash comes in this film – is journalist David Walsh. Chris O’Dowd’s rendering of his role is almost as good as Foster’s: we don’t exactly like David Walsh, even though we (obviously) believe him from the outset. Lance we half-warm to, half-despise. The Lance/David duo, then, works, in its strange tug of war on our conscience. The soundtrack of this film has swagger, the cockiness of the final ‘Everybody knows’ by Leonard Cohen is unashamed. Like Lance, Frears kind of gets away with all this, even the cheesiness. After the first few minutes, we sort of comply to his style; suspend our disbelief, suck up the soundtrack, let go of our expectations, forget what we already know, lie.
The Program Official Trailer: