• The Program is out in cinemas in Australia on November 26. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
The first foray of filmmakers to tell the Lance Armstrong story to a wider audience delivers a film of exquisite detail but falls short in truly capturing the intrigue of the Texan's fall from grace, writes Al Hinds.
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20 Nov 2015 - 11:18 AM 

After the documentary success of Alex Gibney’s “The Armstrong Lie” and Alex Holmes more recent “Stop at Nothing”, the soon-to-released “The Program” is the first film that’s tried to capture the controversy of the Armstrong story in a more biopical way.

Based on David Walsh’s best-selling book Seven Deadly Sins, the film follows the intertwined lives of Walsh (played by Chris O’Dowd), and cycling’s most controversial figure (outside of Oleg Tinkov), Armstrong (played by Ben Foster). Walsh’s battle to uncover the truth behind Armstrong’s meteoric success underlines much of the film's thread, although Floyd Landis’s story (played by Breaking Bad star Jesse Plemons) is also prominent.

The film delivers excellent performances and stunning attention to detail, but as for the story itself, well, it fizzles. Which is a real shame because the story has all the makings of a good film. There’s Armstrong’s battle with cancer, his time at the Tour de France, and indeed his life around cycling, as well as the numerous enigmatic characters he surrounded himself with. And then there’s Walsh’s own story which was perhaps underplayed, of the battered and rejected journalist who finally wins vindication in the end.

It was perhaps this feast of narrative potential that ultimately overwhelmed screenwriter Justin Hodge who appears to have tried to fit everything in, without adequately rounding off any of it. If the film had’ve singularly focused on Walsh, with Armstrong in the background, or visa versa, it would’ve been far more compelling. Instead we’re served a hodgepodge approach to tying the story together, with novel inclusions of characters and details that only the cycling fraternity would notice or understand, at a cost of any sense of real dramatic tension between the two protagonists, in Armstrong and Walsh.

What the film does execute brilliantly is colouring in a lot of what its documentary predecessors cannot; re-creating races, stages, intimate conversations between Armstrong and his Postal team-mates, and elegantly inter-splicing their fictionalised elements with real archive footage. There’s Armstrong on Ventoux from behind in 2009 fighting with Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador; and then seconds later we see the face of Ben Foster, not Armstrong from the fore. The film even went to the lengths of sourcing and manufacturing kit, cars, bikes as they were exactly to portray the greatest possible realism.

That blend of the shots and footage lends the film a very ‘true-to-fact’ feel, and you certainly can’t fault the film on its research. There’s very little that’s sensationalised. In fact if you’re looking for a Seven Deadly Sins supplement, this film is actually pretty good. But I can’t help but feel a little disappointed with the final product given it had the ingredients of something far greater. 

Rating 2.5/5