The Progam - The wheels fall off of this cycling tale - 2 stars

It is definitely not about the bike. 

Walking into the cinema...
One of the greatest falls from grace in the history of world sporting news. Did Lance Armstrong cheat? 

Overall Rating: 2 stars
Cinematic rating: 2 stars 
Bigger questions rating: 3 stars      

        Lance Armstong's name is synonymous with cheating, but for over a decade he was considered to be one of the greatest athletes in sporting history. The Program is a glimpse behind the scenes of what led to the eventual downfall of the seven-time Tour De France champion. With an uncanny resemblance to the infamous cyclist, Ben Foster (Lone Survivor) plays Armstrong from his days of relative obscurity to enduring testicular cancer to eventually becoming the leader of U.S. Postal Services cycling team. His primary adversary throughout his career was a sport journalist named David Walsh (Chris O'Dowd). One of the few reporters who was willing to question Armstrong's mercurial rise to fame. Walsh risked his relationships and reputation within the news community to fight for the integrity of the sport. Director Stephen Frears (Philomena) focuses on the prolonged and questionable fame of Armstrong in the world of cycling and his eventual admission to deception throughout his cycling career. 
       The fact that Lance Armstrong cheated throughout his career is one of the most highly reported events in sporting history and that revelation should not spoil the screenings of this film. Ben Foster and David O'Dowd brilliantly portray their adversarial roles in this tale of cycling fraud. Both characters epitomise their true-life characters and deliver the necessary tension to keep things moving along in this fast-paced ride. Frears utilises the necessary support players to fuel the fire in this battle for truth and ethics. The multitude of characters comprise a one-dimensional narrative that spotlights the elaborate scheme to deceive the organisers and fans of the world's best known cycling event. 
       Unfortunately, this is where the accolades end for this cycling narrative. Even with the well defined adversarial roles, the renowned director manages to only convey one-side of the tale. Frears manages to de-humanise Armstrong to such a degree that even if all is accurate, this film comes off as a hatchet job of the tarnished champion. The cyclist is known for his sociopathic tendencies and arrogance, but outside of the scenes depicting his battle with cancer, there are very few glimpses into his personal life. The world may only know of his cancer, cycling and cheating, but it would have been worthwhile to provide a balanced story that included more intimate details of his life. Also, a key component missing from the film was showing how Armstrong was able to bring the world along for such an extended period of time with him on this mountaintop joyride. Frears stays on one track and merely shows the elaborate nature of the cheating and with the unbalanced nature of the film, produces a bizarre level of sympathy for the dethroned sporting legend. When justice is ultimately delivered, the film does not provide any satisfaction in Lance being brought down. With such a contemporary and compelling real life story, The Program  comes off as a second-rate dramatic-documentary produced for Fox Sports. 

REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 

Mankind has a deep need for fairness and the delivery of justice. Stories like The Program are made because people want to know if the perpetrators of deceit are brought to justice. Why else would anyone care about a man riding a bike through the mountains of Europe? So, where does this need for justice get it's origins? Some may say that laws and rules are something that were created by man over time, but there has to be an ultimate authority. Another consideration is that the need for justice is hard-wired into mankind and the explanation can be found in the words and very nature of God. Being a God of justice and studying through His words shows that he wants all things to be made right. It might seem a stretch to think that a story about a cheating cyclist can initiate a deeper consideration of justice and God, but why not seek the real answers to justice and where they can be found.

1. What does the Bible say about guilt? (Psalm 103:11-12, 1 John 1:9)
2. Can we ever find justice? (Proverbs 21:15, Romans 12:19)
3. What does the Bible say about aspiring to leadership? (Jeremiah 29:11, John 16:33) 

Leaving the cinema...
After reading his biography years ago, I will admit to not being a fan of Lance Armstrong. The book did not make me care about him or the sport of cycling. Neither did this film. It seems to portray his personality accurately, but fails to deliver the needed layers to make this compelling cinematic journey. 

Trailer for the film

Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #theprogram #lancearmstrong #livestrong