Richard and CP24 anchor host Nneka Elliot have a look at he weekend’s big releases, the Spike Lee satire “Chi-Raq,” the young adult dystopia of “The Divergent Series: Allegiant Pt. 1” and the Lance Armstrong biopic “The Program.”
Richard and “Canada AM” host host Beverly Thomson have a look at the weekend’s big releases: the Spike Lee satire “Chi-Raq,” the young adult dystopia of “The Divergent Series: Allegiant Pt. 1,” the Lance Armstrong biopic “The Program,” and “Knight of Cups,” the new Terrence Malick paint drier.
“The Program,” a biopic of disgraced Tour de France racer Lance Armstrong begins like a fairy tale, although one with doping and cancer, but ends as a Shakespearean tragedy.
Ben Foster plays the cyclist as an athlete obsessed with winning. A rising star on the race circuit, he looks to Dr. Medecin Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet), an Italian doctor with a “scientific” approach to training to create a routine—the program—involving exercise, growth hormones, erythropoietin, cortisone and testosterone patches that will turn him into a champion. “You just tell me what to do,” Armstrong says eagerly, “and I’ll do it.” The doctor tells Lance that under his care you’ll, “no longer confined to earth now you can fly.”
In other words: OK Racer + Performance Enhancing Drugs = Great Racer.
When his career momentum is slowed by testicular cancer it seems as though everything will be lost but he beats the disease and comes back stronger than ever. Almost too strong. Sunday Times sports reporter David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) notes that during one race Armstrong is moving so quickly he has to use his brakes…going uphill. “He recovered from cancer and turned into Superman,” he says. Suspicious, he puts Armstrong and his team, the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, under a journalistic microscope. “I have no interest in watching chemists racing up a hill,” says Walsh.
As Armstrong and Co begin a streak that will eventually see them win seven Tour de France races Walsh raises an “unwelcome question,” Is it real or is it dope? Meanwhile Armstrong becomes an American hero, supporting cancer research through his charity, all the while denying any wrong doing in the dope department.
As the pressure increases so does his ego. He starts referring to himself in the third person—“Will he passed every test?” he says. “Yes he will because he doesn’t use performance-enhancing drugs.”—and launches lawsuits against the Sunday Times and Walsh in an effort to intimidate them into silence. It isn’t until a former teammate, Floyd Landis (Jesse Plemons), comes clean about the doping that Lance’s empire crumbles.
Like its subject “The Program” moves quickly. So quickly, in fact, it plays like a montage, never settling on one thing long enough for the audience to care. Racing scene! Doping scene! Inspirational chatter like “Say to yourself, I’m flying”! Director Stephen Frears races through Lance’s life—his cancer is dispensed with in minutes while in another scene he meets a woman and in the next they’re walking out of a church, married—touching down here and there on the greatest hits of the man’s life. It’s a face paced but unsatisfying way to learn about the rise and fall of the most famous bicyclist in the world.
That he was a doper and a cheat is not in question but what got him there? Winning is everything to Lance, but why? Is it hubris? The movie doesn’t let us know. It is content to zip through the details without too much commentary on how or why we got there. It’s a story of hubris, heroics and hypocrisy that is more interested in broad strokes of how Armstrong created his own legend than the details.
“The Program” falls somewhere between a biopic, sports movie and the investigative reporting of “Spotlight,” but never gels as any one thing. Foster is fine in the lead role but the film doesn’t allow him to really inhabit the ski of his character. For a more complete and interesting look at Lance check out Alex Gibney’s documentary “The Armstrong Lie.”
Lance Armstrong was one of those athletes who transcended his sport. He wasn’t just a cyclist; he became a celebrity known to people who couldn’t even pronounce Tour de France.
When director Alex Gibney embarked on this Lance Armstrong documentary in 2009 it was meant to be a comeback story. After four years away, and seemingly done with the doping scandal that plagued him for years, the racer was planning to not just complete but win the most brutal road race in the world, the 2200 mile Tour de France.
History reminds us that the race wasn’t the comeback he hoped for, marred by a third place finish and new allegations of performance enhancing drugs. Gibney stopped production for several years, returning to the film—with Armstrong’s cooperation—pieced together a portrait of a complex man who allowed hubris and competitive spirit to run amok.
“I didn’t live a lot of lies,” says Armstrong. “I lived one big lie.” It was one huge fib that lasted for his entire career, and arguably made his career. Doping allegations dogged Armstrong his entire career and he did whatever it took, regardless of the repercussions to friends and colleagues, to protect his reputation.
Gibney, an Oscar winner for Taxi to the Dark Side, does a good job at taking us along for the bumpy ride that goes along with being an Armstrong fan. He’s a complicated man who beat cancer and became a hero but whose legacy will be that of a liar who cheated and denied cheating until the weight of evidence was too much to bear.
The movie carefully plots out his downfall, how he is undone by an enormous ego. The bulk of the film takes place during the 2009 race, the beginning of the end for Armstrong’s career, detailing the behavior that leads to one friend suggesting, “doping is bad but abuse of power is worse.”
We all know how “The Armstrong Lie” will end. It’s a portrait of man who lied with a straight face and yet doesn’t seem to quite understand or accept the repercussions of his actions. Fascinating stuff on a complex subject.