Tour de Lance

The Program

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Director: Stephen Frears

Cast: Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Jesse Plemons, Dustin Hoffman, Guillaume Canet, Lee Pace, Bryan Greenberg, Denis Menochet

Acclaimed British directed Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, Philomena) tackles another real life media drama similarly to his Oscar winning film The Queen, in the sports expose of infamous cyclist Lance Armstrong in his new film The Program.

Based upon the novel The Seven Deadly Sins by the sports journalist David Walsh who tracked the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong from the early 1990’s to his public humiliation and eventual stripping of all seven Tour de France medals for admitting to running the most elaborate and sophisticated blood doping system in international cycling. The Program opens with a combative shot of David Walsh and Lance Armstrong playing table hockey in a French resort near the Tour de France route.

American actor Ben Foster (Kill Your Darlings) is terrific as Lance Armstrong, an ambitious cyclist who after battling and overcoming a devastating cancer diagnosis begins a record breaking winning streak by becoming the Tour de France champions seven times.

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Chris O’Dowd plays the sports journalist David Walsh who initially suspects that Armstrong’s winning streak is tainted by performance enhancing drugs and soon it is Armstrong’s own arrogance which confirms Walsh’s suspicions.

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Jesse Plemons (Bridge of Spies, Black Mass) plays the Amish cyclist Floyd Landis who initially joins Armstrong’s US Postal service team and then soon as the years progress gets caught for testing positive for using performance enhancing drugs such as testosterone as well as other barely detectable drugs such as  erythropoietin (EPO) which boost the body’s capacity for oxygen soon after being declared the winner of the 2006 Tour de France.

With the usual efficiency of editing and swift directing by Frears, The Program is an absorbing sports drama in a similar vein to Ron Howard’s Rush. What makes The Program so compelling is the immediacy of the story as the whole Lance Armstrong scandal is still fresh in the current news media, right up to the sensational interview that he gave on the Oprah Winfrey show in January 2013.

Lance Armstrong Interview with Oprah Winfrey

What is even more compelling to watch is Foster’s brilliant portrayal of Armstrong, a man whose initial devastating battle with testicular cancer turned his will to survive into an elaborate and arrogant drive to win at all costs and become an international sports icon and the brand of Lance Armstrong.

Doping scandals in sports are not new media fare but seem to be increasing reoccurring narratives in the media frenzied world of sports, where competitiveness and winning becomes the only method of establishing a celebrity status in the 21st century, which Frears skilfully emphasizes in The Program.

Whilst Frears’ earlier film The Queen about the British monarch’s response to the tragic death of Princess Diana back in 1997 is a far superior film, The Program is worth watching for Foster really inhabits the role of Armstrong, changing his physique and almost chillingly adopting his champion arrogance, which is often reflected in scenes where Armstrong is threatening other cyclists on the highly grueling and competitive Tour de France circuit.

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Audiences should look out for Lee Pace as Armstrong’s sleazy brand manager, Bill Stapleton and a brief cameo by Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman (Marathon Man, Rain Man) as the team US Postal Service’s underwriter, Bob Hamman, who was initially responsible for paying out large sums of cash to Armstrong for his successive Tour de France wins. French actor Guillaume Canet plays the shady Italian doctor Michele Ferrari.

The Program is a superb portrait of international sports competitiveness, deception and how the media are implicit in making these cyclists into celebrities then breaking them down when scandal erupts.

Source:Lance Armstrong

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