“The Program” attempts to turn the Lance Armstrong story into an Oscar vehicle

the program
Once upon a time, it was all the rage to love Lance Armstrong. After all, his story was a ready made feel good movie. Now, having learned the truth about the athlete and seeing him disgraced, the story has taken on a whole new level and meaning. As such, there is a second wave of projects tackling Armstrong, this time in far less of a flattering light. This weekend, one of the higher profile ones hits theaters in The Program, which was posted to be an Academy Award player at one point. It doesn’t seem likely anymore, but I suppose we can’t count anything out this early on, can we?

The film is a pseudo biopic, though that probably misrepresents what is going on here. The Program is more of an investigation tale, looking at Armstrong through the lens of a suspicious journalist and what he winds up finding out. Ben Foster plays the formerly (as well as currently at the beginning) beloved athlete, while Chris O’Dowd is David Walsh, whose eventual book became the basis of this movie. Walsh suspects Armstrong of being less than perfect, and begins a quest to discover the truth. We obviously know what happens, but this connects the dots for us. Stephen Frears directs, while John Hodge wrote the adaptation of Walsh’s book. In addition to leads Foster and O’Dowd, the cast includes the likes of Guillaume Canet, Dustin Hoffman, Lee Pace, Jesse Plemons, and many more, while the cinematography is put forth by Danny Cohen.

In an alternate universe, this could have been one of the bigger contenders of the year. After all, how juicy of a story is this? Before any of the scandals, Armstrong’s life could have made for an Oscar friendly biopic, but with cheating and the fall of an icon, it’s even baitier material. Having Frears directing, an actor due for a nomination in the lead with Foster, and just the notion of following in Spotlight’s footsteps in a way, the ingredients were there. The execution falls short of what you would need in order to get legitimate Academy Award consideration, but it’s still an interesting flick that has a real curiosity factor working in its favor. In a way, removing it from the race (no pun intended) might actually let it stand on its own merit, instead of competing with more prestigious fare.

Awards wise, I think this will be forgotten about come the precursor season, but if The Program somehow hangs on, it might be able to get a campaign going. It would be a long shot, for sure, but hypothetically you could see candidacies in the Best Picture, Best Director (for Frears), Best Actor (for Foster), Best Supporting Actor (for O’Dowd), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Hodge), and Best Cinematography (for Cohen) categories. Foster and O’Dowd could swap categories if one seems to be building some form of buzz, but again, I’d expect this film to be left in the dust well before we get to awards season.

Overall, this Friday will be step one in seeing if The Program has any viability this year, as audiences will be able to give it a shot if they so desire. My strong suspicion is that it fades into oblivion, but it doesn’t quite deserve that fate. Especially if you like Foster, this does offer up something worthwhile. In an alternate reality, this could have become his vehicle, no pun intended. Alas, it seems not to be. Anyway, that’s a whole other story. If you’re curious about this movie, take a look. Who knows, you might actually like what you see, right? Anything is possible…

Be sure to give a look to The Program, beginning its theatrical run this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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