Maysa Moncao’s review of the Lance Armstrong film starring Ben Foster. Directed by Stephen Frears, who provided a Q&A to Maysa and other reviewers at the Toronto International Film Festival/TIFF 15.
In order to promote the sales and distribution of British films in America, as well as marketing the Island as a location, London House set up a cosy venue at TIFF and served us tea and cookies. We were a bunch of 15 people sitting right in front of Mr. Stephen Frears, listening to the unusual and comic anedoctes about his career. Soon after our breakfast, he would be welcomed on the red carpet for his new movie, The Program, occasion in which he would explain the reasons why he picked up the book to shoot a story from. “Are you a fan of cycling?”. “No, I am a fan of crime.”
Our conversation began with My Beautiful Launderette (1985), a innovative type of movie which staged at the same time a romance between a skin-head (Daniel Day-Lewis) and a young Pakistani guy (Gordon Warnecke) and the routine of an Asian family living in London under Thatcher’s iron pulse. Frears states: “It was so original. I had in my hands a story that nobody knew. Besides I was very, very privileged. I had an opportunity to learn [filmmaking]”. In fact, My Beautiful Launderette is a framework in British cinematography.
Stephen Frears’ name is so connected with English matters and style that despite having shot movies abroad, he never felt very comfortable in leaving London, or to be more precise, his house in Hammersmith. He explains: “Nobody asked me to come to Hollywood. You see, I want to go home tonight.” And continues: “We had to go to the Alps with The Program crew because we cannot shoot them in London.” A pity indeed.
One of his most remarkable movies is The Queen, which specifically portrays the week of Princess Diana’s death and the political relations between Royalty and then Prime Minister Tony Blair. Frears confesses he was admitted to Buckingham Palace for a special screening dedicated to the Queen, but no comments came from Her Majesty. He knew later though that the carpet was wrong. In a way: “I’ve got everything wrong, but I got it right.”
After the relative success of his last feature Philomena (2013), Frears comes back with The Program, which is about Lance Armstrong. Both movies were written by other people. “Philomena’s” script is by Steve Carell, and The Program is signed by John Hodge, who wrote Trainspotting (1996). “I prefer when I am sent scripts. I find it very confusing in developing it. For example in The Queen, Blair kisses the Queen’s hand, which is wrong. Well, how could I show it?”
During the preparation of The Program, Frears had the assistance of many cyclists. “Not making a bio helped me in the end. I was surrounded by professional cyclists and I chose to trust them. I also learnt a lot about drugs.” Frears is obviously referring to EPO, a hormone secreted by the kidney whose function is to regulate red blood cell production. The Program stands for the constant doping Armstrong and his team undertook for several years. At the same time, the word “program” relates to cancer, as the cells are programmed to kill themselves.
Ben Foster (X-Men 3, 2006 and Lone Survivor, 2013) is magnificent in the cyclist’s role. I can easily bet on him for best male performance in the Oscar race. His will and determination to win the races and fight cancer conquer the audience. Armstrong won the Tour de France 7 times. He also beat cancer, and projected his image in the world of charity.
Armstrong was always suspected of doping. The allegations were raised through his entire career. They finally took form after the insistence of a sports writer, David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd). I remembered mentioning Armstrong to one of my students, who is a cycling journalist at Sky Sports. She became sad, turned to me and said no word. Armstrong’s drama is still embroiled in controversy. I believe cinema has a fundamental role in everything that resonates with controversy.
See the official trailer on Youtube.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
UNITED KINGDOM, DOCUDRAMA, 2015, 103 MIN
DIRECTOR: STEPHEN FREARS
WITH BEN FOSTER, CHRIS O’DOWD, DUSTIN HOFFMAN, JESSE PLEMONS
ABOUT THE FILMMAKER: Frears is an iconic filmmaker who came from TV in the 1960s. He is responsible for the success of “Dangerous liaisons”, “My beautiful launderette”, “The queen”, “The grifters” and “Philomena”.