Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The Program: Lance Armstrong Lies, Cheats, and Dopes his Way to the Top
1986 to 1998 Greg LeMond was the only American to have won the Tour de France.
He became the only American Tour winner once more in 2012 when Lance Armstrong
and Floyd Landis were stripped of their victories. For years, Armstrong’s lies
and intimidation had covered up his extensive use of performance enhancing drugs
(with the timely help of Britain’s stifling libel laws), but the truth
eventually came out. Armstrong’s crimes and hypocrisy are portrayed with scathing
honesty and dramatic gusto in Stephen Frears’ The Program (trailer
opens this Friday in select cities.
sports doctor Michele Ferrari initially declined to work with Armstrong because
he has the wrong body type. Ironically, cancer would re-shape the cyclist to
fit Ferrari’s mold. However, Armstrong had already been self-administering EPO before
the onset of his illness (this point would have tremendous legal ramifications
later). Of course, when the aptly named Ferrari started secretly advising
Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team, the doping became more sophisticated and
systemic. Everyone on the team was implicated, most definitely including their
team director Johan Bruyneel. Yet, there is no question Armstrong was the
architect and the chief enforcer.
Hodge’s screenplay, based on the book and reporting of Irish sports journalist
David Walsh pulls no punches. It makes it clear just how suspicious Armstrong
sudden power was given his past performance, as well as the determination of
the Cycling Union and the press corps to ignore all the tell-tale signs. There
is no question Walsh is the hero of this story and Armstrong is the villain,
but the ways in which the disgraced champion tried to isolate and bully his journalist
critic into silence are still pretty galling. The film treatment is not quite
as damning as Alex Holmes’ expose, Lance Armstrong: Stop at Nothing, but it is not due to a lack of trying.
Foster is a jolly good physical likeness of Armstrong, but the way he relishes
the cyclist’s Machiavellian treachery is a perverse joy to behold. You can
practically see him twisting a phantom handlebar moustache (presumably, a real
one would increase wind resistance). However, he still manages to pull off
humanizing moments, as when Armstrong visits frightfully young and
understandably frightened cancer patients.
Canet perfectly complements Foster’s sociopathic Armstrong, oozing Euro sleaze
as the serpent-like Ferrari. Chris O’Dowd also brings real heft and dimension
to the principled Walsh. Although his screen time is limited, Dustin Hoffman
gives the film a major energy boost as Armstrong’s legal nemesis, Bob Hamman. While
he broods dourly enough as Landis, the sweaty and hulking Jesse Plemons does
not look like much of a cyclist.
First and foremost, The Program will convince any holdouts in the audience Armstrong
really was and still is a lying-dog cheater. It might also lead some of our
British friends to conclude their overly restrictive libel laws are not
consistent with a free press. When an unethical charlatan like Armstrong can
use it to choke off a legitimate inquiry into wrongdoing, something is badly
amiss. Regardless, Frears and Foster create a wickedly entertaining portrait of
an epic egomaniac and the wreckage he left in his wake. It is not exactly
subtle, but it is massively watchable. Recommended for fans of in-your-face,
ripped-from-the-headlines drama, The
Program opens this Friday (3/18) in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Town Center.
Labels: Lance Armstrong, Sports films