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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Monday, August 07, 2017

Movie Review - The Program

The Program (2016)
Starring Ben Foster, Chris O'Dowd, Guillaume Canet, Jesse Plemons, Lee Pace, Denis Menochet, and Dustin Hoffman
Directed by Stephen Frears
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

A biopic of fallen cyclist Lance Armstrong, The Program features a strong performance by Ben Foster at its center, but despite a solid start, the film falters a bit in its second half becoming a tad repetitive and lacking the bite that one would hope as we see Armstrong's career ruined at the hands of illegal doping.  Opening with a 21 year-old Armstrong (Foster) disappointingly losing a cycling race in 1994, Armstrong decides to meet with Dr. Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet) secretly known around the racing circuit for providing the doping drug EPO to clients.  Stimulating red blood cells to allow for maximum oxygen usage, EPO is a banned substance in the high-profile races around the world, but Ferrari and Armstrong come up with an elaborate plan -- "the program" -- to "hide" the fact that Armstrong is taking the drugs and they prove to be successful with Armstrong winning a race in 1995 shortly after starting the stimulant.  However, Armstrong's cycling is cut abruptly short when he is diagnosed with testicular cancer, but he jumps back from the disease stronger than ever (in part thanks to Dr. Ferrari's doping help) and wins five back-to-back Tour de France races before he retires in 2005.  Despite his fervent denials of doping allegations, Armstrong's storied career begins to fall apart when one of his teammates Floyd Landis (Jesse Plemons) tests positive for testosterone and tales of Armstrong's intricate doping program come to light.

The Program is a perfectly adequate depiction of Armstrong's rise and fall and it certainly is intriguing to see how quickly the allure of success caused the renowned cyclist to turn to drugs -- I never knew (or perhaps forgot) that Armstrong was using the performance-enhancing drugs during every Tour de France win.  Ben Foster plays Armstrong with a deviant quietness throughout, narcissistic and pathological in his denials of doping.  Egotistical to the hilt, Foster's Armstrong still manages to be someone that the audience doesn't hate which is a credit to the actor.  While we never accept Armstrong's doping, Foster humanizes Armstrong enough that we find ourselves wrapped up in the cyclist's lie.  Foster himself is reason enough to give The Program a shot.

Unfortunately, the flick falters as it progresses mainly because it grows repetitive in its depiction of Armstrong continuing to elude the cycling community of his actions.  Although reporter David Walsh (Chris O'Dowd) had long thought that Armstrong was not winning by sheer athleticism, when the film focuses on Walsh (upon whose book this film was based), it ends up growing a bit tedious mainly because we already know that Armstrong gets his comeuppance.  There's little suspense and we're simply waiting for the inevitable to occur.  The Program is good enough to warrant a watch particularly if this story is even remotely compelling to you, but I wish it carried a little more punch to take it into a better realm.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

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