Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5 stars.
The Program is a film based on journalist David Walsh’s book Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong.
Walsh of the Sunday Times is convinced that Lance Armstrong’s victories in the Tour De France are fueled by performance-enhancing drugs. The journalist’s reaction on meeting Armstrong for the first time is that he’s good but not great.
“He’s good enough to win a day race but not the Tour,” he announces to his fellow journalists but then Armstrong has him eating his words.
Armstrong too realises that he’s just not good enough to win the Tour De France on his own. He turns to Italian physician Michele Ferrari for help.
Ferrari rejects him initially because he believes that Armstrong is simply not built for racing.
Armstrong is struck with testicular cancer but recovers to found the Live Strong foundation to assist other cancer survivors.
But the film leaves the viewers with no ambiguity about Armstrong’s villainy when a doctor bursts into his hospital room with the query whether he had ever used performance enhancing drugs while training.
Following his recovery, Armstrong seeks out Ferrari again this time convincing him that his body shape has changed since his cancer treatment.
Ferrari agrees to work with him starting him on a course of Erythropoietin or EPO. EPO increases the production of red blood cells thus increasing VO2 max in athletes.
Armstrong is the leader of the US Postal Team winning the Tour De France seven consecutive times. Armstrong institutes a doping culture within the side that includes Floyd Landis who is seen as the logical successor to Armstrong when he retires.
Armstrong considers himself bigger than the sport itself believing himself to be untouchable; he feels that the integrity of cycling would be compromised if his positive test results are disclosed to the world at large.
Armstrong manages to appear above it all; challenging his opponents in court and in the court of public opinion claiming that he has never tested positive.
He takes Walsh and the Sunday Times to court and wins damages.
Armstrong also wins a case against SCA Promotions who attempt to withhold his $5 million bonus.
The Texan retires after claiming a record seven Tour De France titles. He is widely considered the greatest ever cyclist.
Following his retirement, his former teammate Floyd Landis wins the 2006 Tour De France. He later tested positive for an unusually high ratio of the hormone testosterone to the hormone epitestosterone (T/E ratio).
Landis first denied the allegations but later testified to the same accusing Armstrong among others.
The Federal investigation leading from his allegations was dropped but a later United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) investigation found Armstrong guilty. He was banned for life.
With his lies unraveling, Armstrong finally comes clean to Oprah Winfrey on national television.
Ben Foster plays Armstrong with a conviction that conveys his single-mindedness in pursuit of cycling’s Holy Grail. He brooks no opposition in pursuit of his goal. He can be both charming and charismatic. He rubs shoulders with the high and mighty and the best of Hollywood. He has no qualms about cheating believing that the sport is riddled with them.
Jesse Plemons is Floyd Landis, a conflicted rider who sees Lance as his mentor but is devastated on being left out in the cold when he’s caught. He gives up Armstrong and his former teammates turning whistle-blower.
The movie though leaves you cold. Armstrong has no redeeming qualities–even his work for his own foundation Live Strong leaves the audience unmoved.
Catch it if you’re interested in the Armstrong saga. But don’t expect fireworks or thrilling sporting action. There is very little to redeem a movie that could well have been a documentary.