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The Program - Film Review

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by James Newcombe (subscribe)
Freelance writer for feature articles, web content and blogs. Specializing in non-fiction articles on a range of subjects including lifestyle, travel, architecture and product reviews.
Published November 20th 2015
Is winning at all costs really worth it?
Tour De France, Lance Armstrong, Stephen Frears, Floyd Landis, Performance enhancing drugs, cycling, David Walsh, drugs in sport, blood doping
Image courtesy IMDb website.


The Program charts the spectacular rise and fall of Lance Armstrong after he first enters the professional cycling circuit. British director Stephen Frears' movie is not the first time this story has been told; a documentary titled "The Armstrong Lie" was released in 2013. Frears bases his movie around a book by Irish sports journalist David Walsh of the Sunday Times, who is convinced Armstrong is using banned substances.

Tour De France, Lance Armstrong, Stephen Frears, Floyd Landis, Performance enhancing drugs, cycling, David Walsh, drugs in sport, blood doping, Chris O'Dowd
Chris O'Dowd is excellent in his role as Irish sports journalist David Walsh. He is the first reporter to question Armstrong's performances and starts searching for evidence that will expose him. Image courtesy Studio Canal.


Lance first approached doctor Michaela Ferrari and asked to join his 'program'. Ferrari's scientific approach was simple; red blood cells make maximum use of oxygen- therefore you need to raise the red cell blood count. The film follows Lance's struggle with Testicular cancer stage 3 and his chemotherapy treatment. A key moment in the story is Lance admitting to using performance enhancing drugs whilst in hospital for treatment in October 1996.

Ben Foster, Tour De France, Lance Armstrong, Stephen Frears, Floyd Landis, Performance enhancing drugs, cycling, David Walsh, drugs in sport, blood doping, Chris O'Dowd
Stephen Frears sought out Ben Foster for the lead role. Image courtesy Studio Canal.


Lance had to sign with US Postal after his cancer recovery as no one else would take him. His approach was to train only for the Tour De France with careful diet and altitude training. He also coerced the team into using testosterone patches, EPO and blood transfusions.

Ben Foster, Tour De France, Lance Armstrong, Stephen Frears, Floyd Landis, Performance enhancing drugs, cycling, David Walsh, drugs in sport, blood doping, Chris O'Dowd
Is that Lance Armstrong or Ben Foster crossing the finishing line? Image courtesy Studio Canal.


Lance keeps winning and the program of injections and blood transfusions continue in secret on the team bus. Meanwhile his fame, fortune and influence grows and he develops friends in high places. He becomes bigger than the sport itself. The Governing body, fans and most of the press believe the lie.

Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons, Tour De France, Lance Armstrong, Stephen Frears, Floyd Landis, Performance enhancing drugs, cycling, David Walsh, drugs in sport, blood doping, Chris O'Dowd
Floyd Landis (played by Jesse Plemons) was targeted by Armstrong to ride for him. Image courtesy Studio Canal.


After seven Tour De France wins Lance retires. Former team mate, Floyd Landis wins the Tour De France in 2006 but later tests positive for Testosterone and confesses, incriminating Armstrong. The denials follow, with Armstrong using personal intimidation and engaging in long and expensive law suits against anyone who questions his ethics.

Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons, Tour De France, Lance Armstrong, Stephen Frears, Floyd Landis, Performance enhancing drugs, cycling, David Walsh, drugs in sport, blood doping, Chris O'Dowd
By the way, that's Lance Armstrong on the left and Ben Foster on the right. Image courtesy www.theguardian.com/film/2015/sep/10/ben-foster-the-programme-lance-armstrong-interview.


Lance makes a comeback after 4 years in retirement. Ironically he wouldn't let Floyd Landis back into the team because he got caught for using drugs. A disgruntled and resentful Floyd confesses to everything. By this time the overwhelming evidence is mounting as other former friends whose lives Lance has destroyed come forward.

Ben Foster, Jesse Plemons, Tour De France, Lance Armstrong, Stephen Frears, Floyd Landis, Performance enhancing drugs, cycling, David Walsh, drugs in sport, blood doping, Chris O'Dowd
Ben Foster is very slick and polished as Lance Armstrong, much like the production in this movie. Image courtesy Studio Canal.


This story about the greatest fraud in sporting history has been well documented. Even though I knew the outcome it still managed to hold my interest, although it doesn't offer any new insights.
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Why? To see the story of the greatest fraud in sporting history
Where: At a cinema near you
Cost: Check your local cinema guides
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