The rise and fall of Lance Armstrong, from cancer-beating Tour de France champion to admitted drug cheat, made for an epic heist flick, said the director of "The Program," which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on the weekend.
"I think it is a crime story, I think it's a heist movie," British director Stephen Frears said. "He pulled it off and then he threw it all away.
At the festival lead actor Ben Foster said he took performance-enhancing drugs while filming to get a better feel for his character.
"He's America's Jesus Christ on a bicycle. He comes back from the dead, he heals the sick, and then we found out that our Son of God is a doping liar. And now we've banished him," Foster said.
"I wanted to understand the culture on a cellular level," he said of the method-acting technique. "I believe Lance saw the world differently after he survived cancer. After that he came to the conclusion winning is life, and losing is death."
"The Program" documents the dark side of professional cycling, which still struggles to shake off suspicions of cheating amid a culture of loyalty to a team's star.
"It's a profession in which people other than Lance Armstrong are called domestiques," Frears said, referring to the French word for servant. "The hierarchy is quite powerful."
Chris O'Dowd plays Sunday Times journalist David Walsh, who was suspicious of Armstrong from early in his inspirational journey from hospital bed and wheelchair to Tour de France podium.
Walsh's book, "Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong," forms the narrative backbone for the film, with help from the 2012 report of the United States Anti-Doping Agency that said Armstrong's career was "fueled from start to finish by doping."
"It's such an incredible story, that this man defeats cancer and wins the Tour de France; you wouldn't believe it if it was fiction," O'Dowd said.