Wrong Program 

The Tour de France is an annual 23 day, 3500km bicycle race held in France each July. Initially established in 1903 as a local french competition, the race is now considered to be the premiere cycling event in the world attracting riders from dozens of countries. In 2005, American Lance Armstrong made it into the history books when he won the Tour for the seventh consecutive time. Though he was always at the centre of a rumour mill that suggested his extraordinary success was fuelled by a covert drug regimen, he never tested positive for any illegal substance.

But where there's smoke there's fire. Thanks in part to the dogged investigative zeal of Irish sports writer David Walsh (on whose subsequent book this film is based) Armstrong's once impregnable wall of secrecy was breached and the true extent of his chicanery was revealed. The French promptly stripped him of all seven titles and the huge brand name sponsors who made him a multi-millionaire quietly deserted him.

Written by John Hodge and directed by Stephen Frears, The Program is a plodding, by the numbers re-enactment of Armstrong's meteoric rise and humiliating comeuppance. As played by Ben Foster, the athlete on view here is a fiercely ambitious but humourless, intolerably arrogant asshole who risked life and limb and thought nothing of ruthlessly betraying fans and friends alike in his inexorable quest for fame and glory.

Taking its cue from Walsh's book, Hodge's screenplay doesn't dwell on psychological nuance. As far as identifying the true nature of the demons that shaped Armstrong's relentless quest for the prize, only the film's opening sequences, which deal with his cancer diagnosis, treatment and eventual recovery, offer tantalising clues. After that one is left with a formulaic power point presentation devoted to signposting key moments from the athlete's sullied seven year career. With films as diverse as The Hit, The Grifters, High Fidelity and the recent Philomena, veteran director Frears has proven to be a formidable talent but there's little he can do with the material he's been given to work with here. In the end neither Foster, Chris O'Dowd as Walsh nor a handful of thrilling cycling sequences can energise the film's resolute telemovie conventions.   

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