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The Program review: not as dope as you'd expect a Lance Armstrong film to be

Aleesha Matharu | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:52 IST

It was one of the greatest betrayals of trust the world has ever witnessed.

We all know the story - of the man who won the Tour de France seven times. Who survived testicular cancer. Who's been an inspiration to millions.

Which is why when Lance Armstrong confessed to having doped through his entire career, the man became the most publicly disgraced athlete since OJ Simpson.

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Hardly charismatic in himself, the reason the public took the cyclist to their heart was because of what he symbolised. Affirming the human capacity for triumph over adversity, his fight against cancer and subsequent charity work made him an easy figure to root for.

And Stephen Frears' Lance Armstrong (played superbly here by Ben Foster) biopic doesn't shy away from painting the fallen hero for what he is - an egotistical asshole whose sole focus is on winning and post-win gloating.

The sporting scandal that shocked the world

The film is based on a book on him written by journalist David Walsh (Chris O'Dowd) - the man who doggedly pursued his suspicion that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs.

Doping in Le Tour did not start with Armstrong obviously. But it was Armstrong and his team that perfected the use of performance-enhancing drugs, particularly how to hide them. All this was accomplished with the help of a sinister doctor, Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet).

The movie excels in analysing this, showing us just how organised the system was.

Frears offers an impressive set of indictments: the media who managed to ignore the signs, the people in charge of running the show, the athletes who just went along, the sponsors who just didn't care. And of course, the public, who happily believed the fairy story.

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But the biggest issue is that there is no real insight into the man. He's married and has kids, but expect for a two-second wedding, there's no sign of a family.

The films greatest strength however lies in its central performance. Foster manages to play Armstrong with a sort of cold fury, barely an ounce of human feeling.

The drugs are at the centre of The Program, but of course there's more to the story than that. But it's disappointingly rushed, barrelling towards the perfunctory conclusion - the landmark confessional interview with Oprah Winfrey. Sadly, there's no scene to explain exactly why he made that decision to confess - a decision that could in no way have been easy - taking away some of the moral complexity the story has to offer.

Characters are also introduced and disappear again as the plot demands - which means there's barely any character development.

This is extremely noticeable in the case of Floyd Landis (played by an under-used Jesse Plemons). His devout Mennonite upbringing made for an interesting premise as he just seemed to be at odds with his career in cycling. The movie seems to want to explore this issue, but it actually just uses it as a way to justify certain plot developments.

But worst of all, the racing scenes in a film that espouses cycling as the exciting, dynamic, fast-paced sport are dull.

RATING: 3 out of 5

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First published: 12 March 2016, 9:41 IST
Aleesha Matharu @almatharu

Born in Bihar, raised in Delhi and schooled in Dehradun, Aleesha writes on a range of subjects and worked at The Indian Express before joining Catch as a sub-editor. When not at work you can find her glued to the TV, trying to clear a backlog of shows, or reading her Kindle. Raised on a diet of rock 'n' roll, she's hit occasionally by wanderlust. After an eight-year stint at Welham Girls' School, Delhi University turned out to be an exercise in youthful rebellion before she finally trudged her way to J-school and got the best all-round student award. Now she takes each day as it comes, but isn't an eternal optimist.