I have loved cycling ever since I was a kid. I got my first geared bicycle when I was in the seventh standard. While riding it up the hill, I realized how helpful the gears were when we rode on elevations. I can well imagine the pain the professional cyclists have to endure as they ride up the hills. But I guess that’s why we call them professional. There are many scenes in “The Program” which shows Lance Armstrong in a really bad state as he is moving up the hill during various legs of the Tour de France. I could truly associate with his pain. But was it reason enough for him to dope? Can we support the fact knowing that everyone else in the race were also allegedly doping? That’s the question this film raises. Much like the documentary, “The Armstrong Lie”, this film focuses on the life and times of Armstrong as he battles testicular cancer to come back and win seven Tour De France titles.
The film starts with Armstrong still a great one day racer having a chit chat with David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd), the journalist who would go on in the future to be his biggest critic and nemesis. Post the chit chat, he is shown competing in a race where he gets his first taste of failure at the hands of the people who are all on some type of performance enhancing drug, again allegedly. Armstrong decides to surrender to the urge and need of taking the drugs. He starts doing well but then he is diagnosed with cancer. He is down and out for a while but soon comes back with a renewed vigor and an even more insatiable desire to win.
He meets his mentor Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet), who would introduce him to EPO and other sophisticated drugs and then is en-route to winning his first Tour De France. He follows it up with six more title wins. As he is doing so, Walsh is hot on his trail coming up with evidences every now and then. The rest of the film is about how he manages to bully one and all around him to abide by his wishes and do his will. The film also shows how his insatiable desire for victory and his inability to remain away from limelight ultimately results in his downfall. The film meticulously recreates the events even though it works only as a highlight which is fine with me. Considering the time. The film does great by also putting some light on the lives and times of those around Armstrong like Floyd Landis and his other team mates like Johan Bruyneel, Bill Stapleton and Frankie Andreu. The film successfully documents the reasons behind Lance’s team mates bringing out the axe against him.
I had seen the documentary titled The Armstrong Lie before I watched this film and I could relate most of the events in the documentary to the film. One of the biggest pluses for the film is the casting. They get each of the characters spot on. Ben Foster plays Armstrong with conviction. He suits the role to the T. be it the physicality, the charm or for that matter the mannerisms. The press conferences are the best bits where you can actually draw a parallel between Lance and Foster. The next best impersonation is by Guillaume Canet playing Michele Ferrari. His rendition of the character is so close to the real individual that I had to take a bow. Denis Ménochet plays Johan Bruyneel and his rendition is just as sensational as the others.
The film boasts of a immersive story. We all know the story but there is something so alluring about the tale that it makes me want to go back to it again and again. The beauty of the sport, the immense hardwork that goes into it, the cunning path that the men take to making it big in the sport and above all the stunning screenplay. It is not only engrossing but extremely well executed which makes this film even more absorbing. It would be wrong if a mention is not made of the cinematography. The Program is gorgeously shot. High saturated colors, beautiful wide shots, stunning locales and thoughtfully edited sports actions.
The cycling scenes are so well captured that at many junctures it becomes difficult to question the fact that they are not for real. The editing also has to be given due credit for this. The speed is the best thing that the edits are able to ensure. The cuts are slow when they have to be and accelerate when they have to. That’s not something which comes easily these day. The film boasts of a great background score and even though it’s minimalistic it has its own place in the tale. Watch out the for sequence where “Mr. Pharmacist” plays in the background.
The Program is a film which doesn’t just show us the bad side of the man. It does shows us the charity and the great things he did for cancer survivors and then lets us judge him as we please. I believe that was a smart thing to do as it made the film open to interpretations and also let the viewers attach to its narrative better. Armstrong’s life was one that was difficult to judge and it becomes amply clear from the narrative. You may even decide to not judge him at all. Speaking about the cinematic aspects, The Program is a good film which can be watched a number of times for different reasons. For sports film lovers and lovers of quality films, it’s a must watch.
Rating : 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)