Monday, 9 November 2015

Review: The Program

World of Blackout Film Review

The Program Poster

The Program
Cert: 15 / 103 mins / Dir. Stephen Frears / Trailer
WoB Rating: 5/7

Fair play to Armstrong though, he won those races not only when he was off his box on steroids, but also riding what's essentially a girl's bike. I imagine the bullying he sustained for having a racer instead of a proper BMX is what spurred him on to cheat, and there's a lesson in there for us all; play nice, kids.

Anyway, the Stephen Frears biopic of Lance Armstrong's rise and fall is well-paced and affecting, given that the audience already knows the outcome of the story. That said, I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one expecting to see more of 'the fallout' once Armstrong's cheating was brought to light at the end, considering up until that point, the film paints Lance as a cheat, liar and chronically insecure narcissist. If anything, the screenplay almost undermines its own point, not kicking the cyclist further once he's completely fallen, but also failing to sufficiently vindicate Walsh, the journalist who helped expose him. While I can well imagine Walsh took no great glee in being proved right, the film seems to take even less.

(Although am I the only one who finds it fascinating that Armstrong successfully sued the Sunday Times*1 for claiming he cheated in much the same way that Liberace successfully sued the Daily Mirror for implying he was gay?)

Portraying everyone's favourite two-wheeled cheat, Ben Foster is quite-remarkable in a film which is only ever quite-good. Even Chris O'Dowd is great, demonstrating that he actually has a far better hand for drama than comedy. There's a delightfully meta scene in which Foster's Armstrong runs through a list of acting candidates being touted to play him in the movie of his life. Naturally, Foster's name was nowhere to be seen, yet he's probably given a far better performance than any of those mentioned would have (although they weren't being touted for this version of the story, obviously). Understated plays from the supporting cast work in the film's favour, although Guillaume Canet is one step away from Going Full Frankenstein™ in his portrayal as the dope-endorsing sports doctor Michele Ferrari, and his heated, ethical discussion on the subject gets a bit pantomime when he's let loose.

It's not a point which is played upon for too long, but I liked that The Program pokes into the science and biology of sports performance, to at least explain how the drugs were helping the team win races, even if the why is left as 'because they're cheating dicks coerced by their lead cyclist'. On a more technical level, what's going on with the camera-focus in the post-mountain-leg restaurant scene? It's almost as if Cinematographer Danny Cohen is trying to blur out people mid-frame who don't want to appear in the film. Except they're, y'know, the extras. It doesn't de-rail the film (obviously), but in a dialogue-heavy scene it's very distracting.

Although I had no interest in cycling (and still don't, to be fair), The Program is a fascinating movie dramatising human psychology more than sportsmanship. That said, it's debatable whether viewers who are familiar with the proceedings will get more or less out of the film…

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
As engaging as it is, probably not.

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
This film should open the door for both Foster and O'Dowd to take on more challenging roles, yes.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Up to a point, absolutely.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not a one.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
The Program stars none other than Lee Pace, aka Ronan The Accuser from Guardians Of The Galaxy, a movie which starred Peter 'the voice of Darth Maul' Serafinowicz.
[All roads lead to Darth Maul, today.]

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 *It also wasn't lost on me that since The Times has been under the Murdoch banner, their institutional approach to journalistic integrity bears a striking similarity to Armstrong's sportsmanship ethos. It's been noted that way, at least.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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