True life investigations dominate a special corner of the TIFF.40 landscape, with Black Mass (exploring the connections between James Bulger and the FBI), Spotlight (another Boston-based piece exposing the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church), and Truth (the CBS-Dan Rather story about President George W. Bush’s military record) on my festival docket, along with the Stephen Frears feature The Program, which dares to shed light on the shocking horror and infamy of Lance Armstrong, the disgraced cyclist and cancer survivor.
Frears knows his way around this territory, having helmed The Queen and Philomena, two very different portraits of lives lived, but linked by a commitment to capturing the emotional intimacy of the subjects. So, I have to ask, what happened with The Program? Walking out of the public screening yesterday, I found myself nearly enraged at the one-note examination of Armstrong, a figure I must admit to having very strong negative reactions to based on his unwavering ability to lie to the world, destroying lives and all sense of hope for millions of cancer patients and survivors.
Frears, working with a screenplay from writer John Hodge (Trainspotting, Trance) based on Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by sportswriter David Walsh, never even remotely dares to dip a toenail into the psyche of Armstrong, and worse still, allows Walsh (played by Chris O’Dowd) to disappear from his own story. What must have been a quite dogged pursuit of the truth barely registers in this cartoonish rendering of the endless and utterly unimaginative villainy of Armstrong.
I wish there was more worth saying about The Program, but the film, like its subject is decidedly empty and not worth the effort. (tt stern-enzi)