Come on, guys. Let’s cut Lance some slack. Dude dated Sheryl Crow after all.
Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster), as they like to say, came from nothing, only to then become something. Though he was just a small-time cyclist from Texas, eventually, Lance began to train more and more, to the point of where he was competing in national competitions like, well, for starters, the Tour de France. However, while he was definitely successful very early in his career, he ran into problems when it turned out that he had testicular cancer. Eventually, he got treatment and got back on his bike, except this time, it was with a whole new mission: To help those with cancer. With all sorts of support on his side from everyone around him, Armstrong created the Live Strong foundation, won the Tour de France a few more times, had all sorts of sponsors, was generally seen as “a hero”, and heck, was even in a long-term relationship with Sheryl Crow. It seemed almost as if Armstrong was the king of the world and couldn’t be brought down from his title. However, journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) saw differently and was one of the key people in challenging Armstrong’s past issues with performance-enhancing drugs. These are the same sorts of issues that would ultimately prove his downfall in the public eye.
By now, I’m pretty sure that nobody’s holding a “Lance Armstrong pity party”. The dude may have fought for a meaningful cause and won a slew of Tour de France’s, but was a jerk to mostly everyone in the media, anyone who associated themselves with him, and used his good deeds and charities to almost make an excuse for all of the performance-enhancing drugs he took. Oh, and not to mention, that he lied about almost all of this. So yeah, no time soon will everybody crowd around a picture of Lance, and memorialize the person who he was and cry on his behalf.
Some people may do that now as we speak, but it’s probably a very limited number.
However, that’s what’s perhaps most interesting about the Program: While it does treat Armstrong in a sometimes negative, almost mean light, it still has an effect and makes you wonder if all of this piling-up on him is, well, enough. After the Armstrong Lie, it felt like we already had Armstrong’s story and nothing else needed to be told, which is pretty true in this movie’s case, but director Stephen Frears does something interesting in that he turns the story around ever so slightly and make us think that maybe Armstrong, while not misunderstood, was attacked way too heavily. Sure, he was a cocky dude who brought a lot of these issues on himself for just not sticking to his guns, not staying clean, and gaining a God-complex, but at the same time, he still had some nice qualities to him.
I know that statement literally means nothing in most cases, but here, it means something; rather than painting Armstrong as this completely distasteful, immoral son-of-a-bitch, the movie shows that while he was most definitely a dick, he was one that also wanted to fight for a good cause. Also, the movie likes to focus on those around him, like Lee Pace’s Bill Stapleton, or Denis Menochet’s Johan Bruyneel, and show that they most definitely had a hand or two, or more, in constituting just how far Armstrong went with his success. While he may have wanted to use his wealth and notoriety for the greater good of society and to find a cure for cancer, those around him mostly just saw a piggy-bank that needed to be constantly tapped and used.
Once again, none of this is excusing the fact that Armstrong lied on many occasions, but it brings up some valid arguments about him.
That’s why the Program, the movie, feels very mixed. In a way, we didn’t really need this story to be told to us, but because it’s a movie that exists, it’s hard to hate on it for existing. What I can hate on the movie for is not really offering anything fully meaningful to the debate of whether or not we should all, as a society, go back to letting Lance Armstrong into our tender arms. It makes you think if he was a total dick or not, but that’s about it; all the movie really sets out to do is tell Armstrong’s story once again, as if some of those at home didn’t already know a single thing about it, or him.
Also, what’s odd about the movie is how, even at an-hour-and-43-minutes, it goes by very quick. This isn’t something I note as a positive either, as a good portion of the film just feels like a Lance Armstrong highlight reel, where all of the good things he did, gets shown, as well as the bad things, and they’re just constantly put up next to one another, back-to-back. For instance, we’ll get a scene of Armstrong at a children’s hospital, being nice and sweet to the kids, but the next one, we’ll get a shot of him sticking a needle into his bum. While this may be effective editing, it still doesn’t help when there’s at least three or four of these transitions of seeing Armstrong do something nice, only to then have it all juxtaposed by him doing something bad.
We get it! What we didn’t see in the spotlight, was sometimes darker than what we wished!
As Lance Armstrong, Ben Foster is very good in that he’s doing a lot of acting and having seen Armstrong in plenty of interviews/public appearances, it almost doesn’t feel right. Don’t get me wrong, Foster is good and gives this all his every bit, but there’s a lot of yelling, and screaming, and posturing from Foster that I don’t feel was very necessary to this character, especially the real life Armstrong wasn’t totally like this. He was definitely a bit smarmy, in a way, but no way was he a total a-hole like the way he’s portrayed here. If anything, he was just a dull guy who had a lot of championships to his name, his own cancer foundation, and a severe drug habit.
That’s basically all there was to Lance Armstrong – the man, the myth, the cheater.
Consensus: Without making its own mind up on its subject, the Program feels a tad short-shifted, but with some good performances and entertaining, slightly easygoing pace from Stephen Frears, it gets the job done and may have you thinking a bit differently about Armstrong himself. Or, then again, maybe not.
6.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire
And for the record, Sheryl Crow was an overrated, middle-of-the-road, talent-less bitch.
You’re spot on with your analysis Dan, solid review, and entertaining as always!