The Program

Starring: Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Jesse Plemons, Guillaume Canet, Lee Pace, Dustin Hoffman
Directed By: Stephen Frears

Plot: A biography of cyclist Lance Armstrong (Foster) taking him from his early days, when he was a weak cyclist, through his seven Tour De France wins, an of course, his rise to infamy from his doping scandal.

What Works: The performances here are why you would watch this. O’Dowd and Plemons are both really good. Foster is almost always good, and its his third good performance in 2016. He handles the role really well, taking the good with the bad, which is always a hard balance when you’re portraying someone who is still alive. I often complain about how when a biopic is made of a person who is still alive, they play it safe. I don’t feel that challenge hindered Foster’s performance at all, or really any of the cast. I don’t think they were concerned with how the real life version of them would feel. I think they went for it, and I appreciate it.

What Doesn’t Work: Really, the film itself doesn’t work. For as intense a person as Lance Armstrong is suggested to be, the film never reaches his level of intensity. There’s never really an exploration of the why behind his actions, it’s all just presented at surface level. This is a problem, as I said before, with biopics of living people, There’s a fear of going too dark, or too deep, and showing the unpleasant side of someone. Frears backs off here, and instead of a worthwhile look at Armstrong, we get this paper thin version that just happens to be competently acted. It’s a muted biopic, which is a shame, because I have a feeling there is much more to the story, and much more to Lance Armstrong.

Final Word: A somewhat disappointing biopic that is just a shell of what it could have been. It could have decided to make a compelling case for Armstrong either way, but it seems too afraid of offending anyone still living. For this film to have been directed by Stephen Frears is baffling. It feels like a first or second film from a director we’ll never hear from again, not from someone as talented an acclaimed as Frears. This will be the one film he hopes people forget, but anyone who has seen it might never forget the performances from Foster, O’Dowd, and Plemons, all who have contributed to keeping this film above water.

Final Grade: C+

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