The marketing for The Program never really came together for me. There were divergent priorities and stories that seemed to be pushing and pulling against each other and it struggled to present a cohesive, compelling product for the public. Unfortunately that’s true for the movie as a whole as well.
To recap, the movie tells the story of cyclist Lance Armstrong’s rise to fame and fall from grace. Armstrong is played here by Ben Foster, who does what he can with a series of scenes that don’t really have any connective tissue and a character to whom is given few if any redeeming qualities. His nemesis is journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd), a newspaper writer who starts out as an Armstrong fan but quickly comes to doubt he could improve his performance in the Tour d’ France so dramatically in such a short period of time. The movie then follows along as Armstrong’s reputation falls apart as it’s revealed he did take performance enhancing drugs.
As with most biopics like this, the movie falls apart under the scope it’s trying to cover. All the scenes come across as small vignettes, not a cohesive story. Everyone is only given big speeches to make and dramatic moments to have, without anything that actually allows us to care about the characters. We bounce from this to that to the next thing with little time given to let anything marinate or stew. That’s because there are a number of years that need to be covered and certain stations of the cross that need to be traversed to tell the whole story.
O’Dowd is often the best part of the story. The roadblocks he faces as he tries to uncover the truth about Armstrong and the way he remains convinced of his rightness at least give the story stakes. Maybe that’s because Walsh’s is the story we *don’t* know, where as we know what repercussions Armstrong’s actions will have. Foster is fine in the role but has no sense of urgency. He’s not someone the audience can root for, even in the moments where he’s working on and for his livestrong charity because he’s still unapologetic about breaking the rules of the sport he claims to love.
Some of that, but not all, came through in the campaign. But even O’Dowd’s solid performance doesn’t save the movie as a whole from coming off as a muddled, rushed biopic that has no interest in providing anything new about its subject.