The Program

Out Now On-Demand

Winning was in his blood.

Ben Foster (Lone Survivor) is infamous athlete and cheat Lance Armstrong in this biographical drama depicting the events that led to him being exposed. Co-stars Chris O’Dowd as David Walsh, the sports journalist who investigated the case. Directed by Stephen Frears (Philomena) from a screenplay by John Hodge (Trainspotting).


Directed by

Written by

Drama, Sport, True Story & Biography


Rating: M Offensive language

UK, France

Official Site

The opening shot of director Stephen Frears’ follow-up to the wonderful Philomena sees world-famous cycling cheat Lance Armstrong pedalling uphill by himself on a seemingly endless road. This beautifully framed scene smartly represents the character’s impossible-to-meet standards of satisfaction while perfectly illustrating the isolation he created for himself. The act also represent the film itself: procedural and forgettable, but not a total waste of time.

There are a number of different factors to the sporting scandal that could – theoretically – pierce the skin and inject some high-impact drama, but the film feels like it only taps the vein. What was going through Armstrong’s mind to motivate his cheating? Nothing much more than win, win, win. Were the multiple court cases as deep and morally mixed as, say, The Social Network? Not really – Armstrong just lies until he can’t lie anymore. How engrossing was their sophisticated doping plan? Well, it’s like Breaking Bad if everything went just swell for the first four seasons.

While these separate moments make for interesting factoids in relation to the real event, they often feel drab rolled up into a feature film. As a result, The Program wiggles back-n-forth between ‘Oscar contender’ and ‘dramatised teleprompter’.

Even though his character’s arc is more of a flat-line, Ben Foster gives his Armstrong one hell of a pulse with a performance that does more than the script probably allows. In a crucial scene that highlights lead and director in perfect sync, Foster delivers a superb under-the-pressure monologue whilst Frears’ camera paints the character’s unfocused mental state by swaying unpredictably from side to side without ever leaving his face.

The pair do as good of a job as anyone could expect putting this story to screen. But a world-shattering controversy does not mean there’s a world-shattering story to tell.

Total Film (UK)


Drives home the dark lie that Lance Armstrong lived – it’s just a pity it doesn’t dig a little deeper.

Empire (UK)


Shot and sharply scripted, powered by an outstanding performance from Ben Foster and the quiet integrity of Chris O’Dowd.

Time Out London


It has an unsettling air that carries us through its more pedestrian patches.

Guardian (UK)


It’s a fluid and nippy telling of a tale that still seems strangely urgent.

Telegraph (UK)


You sense structural uncertainty about what the Armstrong saga connotes and how exactly it was begging to be told. But you can’t take your eyes off Foster.

Variety (USA)


In the film’s richest performance, Plemons beautifully teases out the ambiguities and potential hypocrisies of Landis’ own moral position...

Little White Lies (UK)


All the necessary components are there, but this slickly constructed machine only scratches the surface.

Hollywood Reporter


This dreary drama about the disgraced cyclist just goes through motions.



Fast and merciless.

It's a fast and flowing film that does not bother with any superfluous details. Stephen Frears is absolutely merciless with his subject, and Ben Foster is brilliantly despicable as Lance Armstrong. While the great Chris O'Dowd ,as David Walsh, shows us the journalist being shunned by his colleagues after confronting Armstrong but persevering in his quest to expose the truth.

I liked it a lot.

Paint By Numbers Bio Pic

The rise and scandalous fall from grace of Lance Armstrong is a story for the ages but it is severely diluted of any kind of heart, emotion, or glimpsing beneath the flesh of the cycling star.

A better adaptation needed

I admit the story is full of explosions and twists, but the representatoon is so dry and plain. It certainly needs to rewrite the script.