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Review: The Program (TIFF 2015)

The Program (TIFF 2015)
09.17.2015
4 10

PLOT: Sports journalist David Walsh (Chris O'Dowd) tries to expose Lance Armstrong's (Ben Foster) doping scheme over the course of his phenomenally successful reign as the world's most popular athlete.

REVIEW: About forty minutes into THE PROGRAM, a guy who I'm pretty sure (like 99.9%) is Michael G. Wilson shows up as Lance Armstrong's cancer doctor. Wilson is one of the 007 producers, having run the franchise for decades. If indeed it was Wilson, he must have felt right at home on the set as Ben Foster plays Lance Armstrong like a Bond villain – only more evil.

Perhaps given the very real sense of betrayal his legions of fans still feel, a somewhat sympathetic Lance Armstrong biopic was probably never in the cards. That said, Stephen Frears' docu-drama really comes off like a hack-job, with it racing through Armstrong's initial success and cancer battle to tackle his doping scheme and the Omerta-like code of silence he enforces among the biking elite. Foster, who one could never call a subtle actor, is given free reign here, playing Armstrong as a Don Corleone-esque figure, while occasionally flying in to wild rages that would make Al Pacino circa-REVOLUTION wince in how over-the-top they are.

While he gets carried-away, Foster shouldn't shoulder the blame for THE PROGRAM. With a screenplay by John Hodge (TRAINSPOTTING, SHALLOW GRAVE) and Stephen Frears coming-off PHILOMENA, this should have been excellent but THE PROGRAM is executed so clumsily that it's already become the unintentional comedy hit of this year's TIFF.

Narratively this is all-over-the-place, with Dowd's journalist only intermittently popping-up to express his suspicions at Armstrong's reign of success. The focus is kept on Armstrong, and indeed there's a fascinating film to be made about the man – only this isn't it. By painting him as a two-dimensional villain, Frears has denied himself the chance to make would could have been a remarkable character study.

Foster's also not the only one who's over the top. Guillaume Canet's part as Armstrong's doping doctor is problematic in that it's also quite absurd, with the caveat being that the real guy (as shown in Alex Gibney's far-superior THE ARMSTRONG LIE) was a bit of a clown so perhaps this is accurate. For his part Dowd is very earnest, but he's denied much screen-time despite his prominent billing. Dustin Hoffman also pops up for an extended cameo as an insurence investigator, and it's too minor a part to really have much of an effect. Jesse Plemons, who's having a great year with BLACK MASS and season two of FARGO on the way doesn't get much leeway to make his Floyd Landis an appealing character, while Lee Pace is absolutely venal as Armstrong's agent. The editing also seems quite compromised, with Armstrong's wife almost completely absent from the film and an ending that's stunningly (and hilariously) abrupt.

The fact is – with the wide range of programming the Toronto International Film Festival is always bound to have a few disasters, and this year the big flop seems to be THE PROGRAM. It's both puzzling and sad that it came together so poorly, but it really is a truly clumsy, simplistic portrait of an extremely complicated man. This is only worth seeing for comedic value.

Source: JoBlo.com

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9:42AM on 09/18/2015
Truth be told I never gave a shit about Armstrong even before the doping scandal, but his story always felt like a sappy movie of the week types anyway. The fact he's a joke now is probably why it's hard to take any biopic seriously in the first place.
Truth be told I never gave a shit about Armstrong even before the doping scandal, but his story always felt like a sappy movie of the week types anyway. The fact he's a joke now is probably why it's hard to take any biopic seriously in the first place.
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6:41AM on 09/18/2015
So basically it sucks like almost every Biopic Movie ever made. But still they can't stop making them! Too bad because I really like Ben Foster...
So basically it sucks like almost every Biopic Movie ever made. But still they can't stop making them! Too bad because I really like Ben Foster...
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4:01AM on 09/18/2015

6.5 / 10 in my books

not as good as I expected, but not bad at all :
This is an original film. Stephen Frears targets Lance Armstrong and makes a biopic whose main argument is to show his character as a bastard. The movie describes the race to victory, even if it means doping and manipulation. The character will appear arrogant and very little friendly by an once again amazing Ben Foster. Ultimately, this biopic (which is not really one) is also the opportunity to go into the world of cycling to discover that
not as good as I expected, but not bad at all :
This is an original film. Stephen Frears targets Lance Armstrong and makes a biopic whose main argument is to show his character as a bastard. The movie describes the race to victory, even if it means doping and manipulation. The character will appear arrogant and very little friendly by an once again amazing Ben Foster. Ultimately, this biopic (which is not really one) is also the opportunity to go into the world of cycling to discover that doping is tolerated when it means money. The movie is very interesting but fell short to be very good. The film lacks a bit of consistency but nevertheless, unveills a complex character, provides spectacular images and sequences and is lead away by a great cast.
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4:10AM on 09/18/2015
If that is Frears' intention at all to make Lance Armstrong a kind of bastard character who wants to win at all cost, then I think he has succeeded in doing so.
If that is Frears' intention at all to make Lance Armstrong a kind of bastard character who wants to win at all cost, then I think he has succeeded in doing so.
11:00PM on 09/17/2015

Hoped Ben Foster would get a good film finally...

What if... that's what Lance really was? A cheater, plain and simple. Seems like you didn't like the movie because you didn't like how the guy came off in it, which is fair, but I'm hoping it at lease sheds some interesting light on the situation. Sometimes people don't need, nay deserve, a sympathic character study.
What if... that's what Lance really was? A cheater, plain and simple. Seems like you didn't like the movie because you didn't like how the guy came off in it, which is fair, but I'm hoping it at lease sheds some interesting light on the situation. Sometimes people don't need, nay deserve, a sympathic character study.
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3:57AM on 09/18/2015
Even the new Steve Jobs movie doesn't portray him as a complete asshole, even though he was a pretty big asshole. No one wants a one dimensional character, especially when they are a real life figure.
Even the new Steve Jobs movie doesn't portray him as a complete asshole, even though he was a pretty big asshole. No one wants a one dimensional character, especially when they are a real life figure.
10:58PM on 09/17/2015
Wow, is it that bad?
Wow, is it that bad?
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4:02AM on 09/18/2015
no, not at all
no, not at all
10:41PM on 09/17/2015
Wow. That's really disappointing to read. I'm not a Ben Foster fan but I was hoping for a good Lance Armstrong bio pic.
Wow. That's really disappointing to read. I'm not a Ben Foster fan but I was hoping for a good Lance Armstrong bio pic.
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10:37PM on 09/17/2015

Man..

Please read my comments from the first trailer article on this site, I called it exactly. Ben Foster is such a one dimensional actor, i even got some negative comments when I wrote that Ben Foster can only play psycho Ben Foster...even though I'm not a huge fan of Chris Bumbray, he went up a few points in my book by calling this performance as it was, over the top, B acting.
Please read my comments from the first trailer article on this site, I called it exactly. Ben Foster is such a one dimensional actor, i even got some negative comments when I wrote that Ben Foster can only play psycho Ben Foster...even though I'm not a huge fan of Chris Bumbray, he went up a few points in my book by calling this performance as it was, over the top, B acting.
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10:35PM on 09/17/2015
This is really surprising to read considering the talent involved.
This is really surprising to read considering the talent involved.
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