zondag 22 november 2015

Today's Review: The Program

Second review for FilmTotaal released this week (but penned last month):

The Program - recensie

Whoever considers this 'the Lance Armstrong' film is wrong, despite it being the only non documentary feature film about the former sports legend thus far. Thing is, at its core it's not about the seven-time Tour de France winner. It's about the journalist who exposed him after years of persistent digging. It's even based on the guy's book. So naturally, Armstrong isn't depicted in a flattering way and that's putting it mildly. The infamous cyclist is portrayed as an absolutely single minded, appalingly arrogant fraud throughout the piece, with little to no redeeming character qualities. Simply said, a total dick. Now, of course nobody will deny that aspect of his character exists. But it can't have been all he ever was/is. After all, he became an inspiration for millions. With the solely negative traits he's endowed with in this film, it's not likely he would ever have been that widely admired. But to the brave, heroic journalist who risked his career and maybe even his life to bring the man down, Armstrong was utterly evil. So that's the Armstrong we get on screen. An Armstrong devoid of nuances, a character from somebody else's pages rather than his own book of life. Which rules The Program out as the biopic it claims to be. But then, history is written by the victors. Which Armstrong himself ultimately didn't rightly turn out to be.

More was to be expected from director Stephen Frears. His previous work showed him most interested in the human side of things, the choices and thoughts that make people who they are, rather than who they seem to be to the rest of the world. The Queen is the best example, where he showed the Queen of England to be just as limited a human being as the rest of us, and therefore a relatable character. The same doesn't hold true for Lance Armstrong, who is portrayed far too one sided and excessively obsessed a character to feel really real. Good performances not withstanding, since Ben Foster does an intense job at playing the star cyclist. Perhaps too much so, going over that top rather than staying right under it. Of course, Chris O'Dowd gives less of a notable performance, thus making him feel more real in the role of the intrepid reporter, which also makes him feel more human than his antagonist, as is the film's intention. And when you say O'Dowd, comedy is the first thing that springs to mind. The Program often feels like it is just that, especially in its first half. After all, we shouldn't take one of the greatest frauds ever too seriously, the film suggests. Too bad, I would have loved to have seen a movie that explains just why Armstrong did the things he did, rather than this film which only shows what those things were (which we basically already knew), rather than their motivations. But why would we need to know why a total dick does what a total dick does, right?

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