The Progman centres around investigative Sunday Times sports writer David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) covering the Tour de France, getting suspicious about Lance Armstrong’s (Ben Foster) team because they’re winning tour after tour, but Armstrong can’t be to blame, surely? After all, his career’s took a huge setback in 1996 after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, making him vomit blood in the shower, and he has been trying to fight back against all odds ever since, so get off his back…
That’s how the rest of the world saw the ‘attack’ in the suggestion that this Texan cyclist could have anything to do with illegal doping to get ahead of his competitors. But how else can you approach things when the measured capacity of his body is such that he will always be behind certain other people as they are built more for a whole Tour, whereas Lance is built just for the occasional stage win.
So, you’d think that if you were going to indulge in taking a substance such as Epo (aka Erythropoietin), which stimulates red blood cells, giving the body the boost it needs to perform better than your rivals, you’d use it sparingly… perhaps get the occasional Tour win here and there. Not if you’re a show-off like Armstrong. He won the Tour de France in 1999, and then a further six consecutive times up until 2005. Yes, if you overplay your hand, you’re going to get it shot off.
The best thing about this movie is Foster in the lead role. Not only is he a fantastic actor generally – and I remember first seeing him as Claire’s boyfriend in Six Feet Under, but he’s also a dead ringer for Armstrong. I’m less keen on O’Dowd, though. I wasn’t a huge fan of The IT Crowd and he seems to be turning up in every other American movie without anything that makes me work out what his talent is. In addition, the real downside with this movie is that, while the tale to be told is interesting, it all trots through his entire career in such a brisk fashion that it feels rather lightweight. Yes, we get to see those that are important, such as team coach Johan Bruyneel (Denis Ménochet) and his doctor, Michele Ferrari (Guillaume Canet), plus team mate Floyd Landis (Fargo‘s Jesse Plemons) – and how their stories pan out, but you still feel there must be more to this and you’d like for it to be fleshed out. Dustin Hoffman, as risk insurer Bob Hamman also puts in a performance of “man passing by to collect the cheque”.
The film is presented in the original 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical ratio and is in 1080p high definition, and looks crisp and sharp, bringing the Tour to life, just as you’d expect for a modern movie release.
The sound is in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and it’s fine, but as it’s mostly a drama, there’s nothing in the audio department to get on your saddle about… (saddle, bike… I’m here all week, tip your waitress)
The extras are brief and are as follows but really do feel like an afterthought and, after watching them, are entirely forgettable:
- Featurettes: Two here, both mixing in clips with cast and crew snippets. Firstly, Becoming Lance (4:21), showing Ben Foster’s likeness to Armstrong, plus getting the cycling style right, all with a view to being able to mix new filming with archive footage so that you wouldn’t know it isn’t the same man.
Then there’s The Program (3:18), a generic featurette.
- Interview with David Walsh (8:50): The sports writer portrayed by Chris O’Dowd in the movie.
Sadly, the US disc includes a number of other segments which Studiocanal haven’t included here. Why? These include additional, individual chats with Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, cycling consultant David Millar, David Walsh, Guillaume Canet, Jesse Plemons and Stephen Frears.
Running time: 103 minutes
Released: February 15th 2016
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Red Epic)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Stephen Frears
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Tracey Seaward and Kate Solomon
Screenplay: John Hodge (based on the book “Seven Deadly Sins” by David Walsh)
Music: Alex Heffes
Lance Armstrong: Ben Foster
David Walsh: Chris O’Dowd
Medecin Michele Ferrari: Guillaume Canet
Floyd Landis: Jesse Plemons
Bill Stapleton: Lee Pace
Johan Bruyneel: Denis Ménochet
Frankie Andreu: Edward Hogg
Bob Hamman: Dustin Hoffman
Betsy Andreu: Elaine Cassidy
Emma O’Reilly: Laura Donnelly
Sunday Times editor: Peter Wight
Charles Pelkey: Nathan Wiley
John Wilcockson: Chris Larkin
Rupert Guinness: Mark Little
Tony: Sid Phoenix
Rich: Josh O’Connor
Stephen Swart: Sam Hoare
Wayne: James Harkness
Conference Doctor: Saskia Reeves
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.