September 13, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Review: “The Program”


THE PROGRAM feels entirely useless.  With an authoritative documentary about the Lance Armstrong story already in wide distribution (Alex Gibney’s excellent The Armstrong Lie), the only reason to attempt a scripted version of the story would be to offer insights not present in the documentary material, or a cohesive narrative of his life that puts his actions in cheating his way to 7 Tour de France titles into some kind of context.

None of that is present in John Hodge’s dull script, which merely repeats the facts that are far more fully and entertainingly presented in Gibney’s film.  Ben Foster has made himself look remarkably like Armstrong, and he captures the man’s ruthlessness barely hidden behind a PR-friendly surface, but that’s all there is to the movie’s Armstrong, and at this point we need to understand more about him, if we’re going to give the tale another 2 hours of our time.  Chris O’Dowd, as the reporter on Armstrong’s trail, Lee Pace as Armstrong’s publicist (seemingly still in character from Halt and Catch Fire) and Jesse Plemons as a member of Armstrong’s Tour de France team have even less to do.

Stephen Frears, who’s been turning out fine films for three decades (everything from My Beautiful Laundrette and Dangerous Liaisons to The Grifters and The Queen), has unaccountably been on a cold streak lately, aside from the vanilla but successful Philomena, and his work here is in the lazy work for hire mode of Tamara Drewe and Lay the FavoriteThe Program doesn’t have any competitive or narrative fire at all; it could use some PEDs.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."