The Program movie full length review - Everybody knows that the Captain lied
Stephen Frears is an Academy award nominated British filmmaker who is mostly known for "High Fidelity", "The Queen" and, very recently, "Philomena", a movie that I absolutely adored.
So I was fairly curious about his most recent work "The Program", especially as I have always had an interest in cycling and seen most of Lance Armstrong's Tour de France victories live on television. This movie here runs for slightly over 100 minutes and features Ben Foster playing the controversial champion. In smaller roles, you will find experienced actors like Chris O'Dowd, Guillaume Canet or Jesse Plemons that many know from Breaking Bad's final season. Academy Award winner Dustin Hoffman is on board as well, but does not have a lot of screen time.
I very much enjoyed watching this movie. I think they did a fine job on combining footage they recorded with old recordings from the actual events. Another big strength is the casting. I applaud whoever was in charge of casting Foster here, not only because he is a truly talented actor, but because he really looks like Armstrong on many occasions. Thumbs up to the makeup people as well. Plemons as Floyd Landis was a very smart decision as well. I am not too familiar with the looks of Dr. Ferrari or Johan Bruyneel and other to say something about the resemblance there, but I will just trust them here as well.
As I said earlier, I have been interested in cycling for a long time, actually during the Armstrong era more than right now and, contrary to my fellow countrymen supporting Jan Ullrich, always been an Armstrong supporter. I liked how this movie also put a focus on his charity work and did not only present him as a cheater. They showed us his struggles and aimlessness after his career had ended and included many other interesting scenes. Yes there was a bit added for dramatic purposes, like when he got caught once and quickly injected water into his bloodstream or the scene where he talks to other riders that were openly against him etc.
I am not too sure if people will enjoy this movie if they do not have knowledge already about the work of cycling, but I believe Frears managed a great description of Armstrong's life and career so far beginning with his early successes and cancer diagnosis up to his recent admission that he doped. Even if it was certainly wrong, can you really blame him if probably 90% of the riders did it? The whole system was rotten, not just Armstrong being the head of it and I personally feel that people like Dr. Ferrari are much more to blame. But even as somebody who knows a lot about cycling, there were aspects that were new even to me, like the involvement of Frankie Andreu and his wife, Landis' exact backgrounds etc. This is also where my only criticism somewhat is directed at. I felt that Floyd Landis was depicted far too positively in my opinion. He complained about the team selling their bikes in order to finance doping and yet, at Team Phonak, the year after, he doped his way to Tour de France victory. If he is such a man of moral standards as depicted here occasionally, then why did he participate in all this? And why did he not confess before he was caught?
Anyway, one final mention to Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows" from the closing credits. I love the singer and I love the song. So this was a perfect way to end the film, especially as many lines from this song fit exactly the character of Lance Armstrong, such as the one in the title of my review here. All in all, I would not say that this was a masterpiece like "Philomena", but Frears again came up with an excellent movie. Highly recommended.