It may not take a groundbreaking approach to biographical drama, but Frears’ The Program draws strong performances from an impassioned O’Dowd, up-and-comer Jesse Plemons and particularly Foster, whose set-jawed intensity grows and grows to suggest a borderline psychotic Lance. As sports doctor Michele Ferrari, however, Canet is way too hammy.
There’s an inconsistency of focus as the film flits between Armstrong and O’Dowd’s suspicious journalist, but this keeps The Program from shying into Philomena’s territory.
Dizzying Tour de France sequences provide a queasy break from the more conventional drama, and Hodge provides a few witty moments.
Familiar format aside, The Program cleverly produces ambivalence, first convincing a knowing audience to root for the cheating Armstrong and then to switch allegiance to O’Dowd’s put-upon Walsh.
CAST: Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Jesse Plemons, Lee Pace, Guillaume Canet, Dustin Hoffman
DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears
WRITER: John Hodge (screenplay), David Walsh (book)
SYNOPSIS: An Irish sports journalist becomes convinced that Lance Armstrong’s performances during the Tour de France victories are fueled by banned substances. With this conviction, he starts hunting for evidence that will expose Armstrong.