Director Stephen Frears (Philomena) and writer John Hodge (Trance, The Beach) diligently work to dramatize Lance Armstrong's fall from grace in a watchable yet not so steely-eyed biopic The Program.
Some may argue why this fictional dramatization was necessary after Alex Gibney's more lucid 2013 account of the golden boy athlete who claimed "I have never tested positive" for banned substances.
As evidenced from some of his earlier pictures Frears may be a little out of his element to draw audiences into a deeply driven, philanthropic character with one fatal flaw and handle the details with dextrous open-mindedness.
But, having character-actor Ben Foster (The Finest Hours, The Messenger, Lone Survivor) is a boost to Hodge's precariously winding script from Irish sports reporter David Walsh's scathing book on Armstrong.
Here, Walsh is played by Chris O'Dowd with a conceited air who was convinced Armstrong (a cancer survivor with an eponymous foundation with yellow wristbands) unprecedented victories at Tour de France (a celebrated extreme European biking event) was felonious. A strong tendency of retribution towards the man who exhibited charisma in front of the camera, but was rather contemptuous away from it.
The Armstrong lore actually suppresses, even surpasses the crusading correspondent credibility (if one is reminded of last year's Truth with Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford about what CBS News went through over their coverage of Dubya back in 2004).
Foster (who followed a strict doping regimen during the shoot) gives Armstrong a sneering Tom Ripley characteristic as an exceptional, very fit cyclist with drug use, lying and abuse part of his modus operandi. The inability to squeeze some warmth from the character is something Foster apparently doesn't mind as edgy and unnerving is what he exudes so well from previous incarnations. And, he's good at holding the proceedings together well enough under Frears's unexceptional direction.
Even if there isn't much excitement in the racing sequences, the filmmaking crisply renders them with much unostentatious potency as Foster appears to be a dead ringer for Armstrong, particularly when pedaling with noticeable prolific prowess.
Maybe less successful on the underlying front are Guillaume Canet as the Italian doctor Ferrari, Lee Pace as Bill Stapleton and Dustin Hoffman as bilked impresario Bob Hamman in a role which probably could have been excised. Perhaps, however, the most variable and intriguing performance is from Jesse Plemons (Black Mass and TV's Fargo) as Armstrong's troubled, influenced colleague Floyd Landis instrumental in a final, determinative outcome. The Program, in spite of the sprightly stubborn dynamism Foster formulates, turns out to be more uninspired and less insightful "true story of the greatest deception of our time."
|The Program - 2016||B-||B-|