Film review: The Program
I saw The Program last night at GFT. It’s the Lance Armstrong film by Stephen Frears.
But before I get on to the film, I want to say how impressed I was by the refit in the GFT cinema 3! (I haven’t been there for years!) Big comfy leather seats and lots of space between rows etc. I am not a huge fan of cinemas generally because they make me feel claustrophobic but the GFT felt quite roomy and plush.
In comparison, I felt a bit under-whelmed by the film.
The Program whizzes through the cyclist’s life in 1hr 45 mins. It felt super-rushed and if I had not read a few books about Lance and seen a couple of documentaries I think I might have struggled with the pace and context of his life.
At one point he asks a woman out for a pizza and 30 seconds later they are getting married. That’s speedy!
A lot of the scenes, especially towards the end, seemed badly connected.However, if you are to pack decades of life action (and there’s of lot of life action for Lance) into less than two hours of film I guess it needs to be fairly speedy. I do wonder if the film was meant to be a lot longer but had been cut back drastically and quickly fitted together?
Ben Foster played Lance and he did a good job of it. His arrogance and ability to lie came through very clearly and it was difficult to like this Lance. Until now, the documentaries have left me feeling (still!) a bit sorry for/impressed by Lance in places.
There were points in the film when I was left wondering if Lance felt bad about his lies. Or perhaps we, the audience, were meant to be appalled by how easily Lance could rewrite his lies and how uncaring he could be about the damage these lies were for others.
Drugs in sport
I am totally against the use of drugs in sport. When we came out of the cinema, a friend, Scott, said that he thought Lance should be given back his seven Tour de Franc titles (he was finally stripped of these after lying for his entire career about drug taking).
I’ve heard others say the same as Scott. Their argument is that Lance was only playing the same drugs game so why should he be penalised? They add, if he was doing drugs like the others and crossed the line first, then he’s still the winner. I can’t agree with this.
What it seemed to me – and this was backed up by The Program – is that even if you argue that the riders were all doing the drugs, Lance pushed his doping to the absolute limits. He was able to do this because of his money, perceived status, arrogance and bullying. That makes him even more of a cheat than the other riders and no one should reap rewards for taking drugs in sport, even if others are doing the same. It makes no sense to me.
Back to The Program
Anyway, I went a bit off-film there. Because The Program gallops along it’s impossible to become bored. Despite being a bit under-whelmed overall I mostly enjoyed the story and the acting. It’s the first time that many people will have seen a portrayal of the (apparently) true Lance; an arrogant, smug and highly driven rider. A sportsman who can’t stand defeat and will stop at nothing to win.
It wasn’t an attractive Lance and I know there are people who still admire him, even after the drugs revelations, but I just can’t.
The film also revealed the agonies of his right-hand rider in the US Postal Service Team, Floyd Landis. He finally admitted his own EPO use after being caught for testosterone abuse. While it’s difficult to feel sorry for a cycling cheat, the film shows how tough it was for Floyd to be shamed while Lance continues to get away with cheating. Lance also drops him like a hotcake the minute he is outed.
And I empathised with the Sunday Times journalist David Welsh. He suspected Lance of cheating for years and when he found some evidence and reported on this, Lance made it his mission to discredit his reporting (even though he would have known that David’s reports were true.). For years, David’s career hung in tatters after Lance and the legal team sued the newspaper.
In the end, David’s credibility is reinstated because he was reporting on the truth but how different his life and career might have been if he had not had it pulped by a lying and cheating lance.
And what about the women in the film? What about Lance’s wife? And the revelations of the sports massage therapist etc? There simply wasn’t enough depth in the film to offer a real picture of what Lance was up to, how he treated people and the extent of his bullying and nastiness.
As the film raced on I felt less and less sympathy for an increasingly despicable Lance. In a way, too, the finger is pointed at the gullible public and the sports organisations that didn’t want to believe that Lance could possibly be doping. I was one of these on-lookers who didn’t want to believe he could be cheating to such a huge extent.
For years, especially after reading his first book about beating testicular cancer, I thought he must be some kind of super-human. But, a reality check, helped me to become increasingly suspicious. What seems stunning now is that he managed to evade the drugs testing for so long. There, again, money must help a great deal in beating the tests.
Perhaps the very fact that Lance was a multiple Tour de France winner made him even more untouchable. No one wanted to believe that a seven-times Tour de France champion could be cheating. We all wanted a hero, especially one that had beaten stage three cancer.
Maybe if Lance had never tried to make a comeback, his lies and cheating would have remained unproven. I wonder, though, if the cyclist’s conscience might have eventually caught up with him.
Part of me wishes there was no story to tell about Lance Armstrong. Shouldn’t we just forget this cheating sports person and keep his story out of the public eye? But we are still fascinated. Of course we are. These days we are less fascinated about his cycling prowess and more focused on his incredulous ability to lie and cheat. Still, The Program also gives Lance Armstrong another 1hr 45 min on the stage and in the limelight. Hmmmm. Somehow, I don’t feel comfortable with that.
What do others think about the Lance Armstrong film?