The Program

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Program Movie Poster Image
Flat Lance Armstrong biopic has drugs, strong language.
  • R
  • 2016
  • 103 minutes

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The truth will eventually come out, no matter how hard people try to hide things; the bigger the deception, the more likely it is to be revealed. In the end, cheaters don't come out ahead. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The movie portrays Armstrong as someone who will do anything to win, including taking banned drugs and lying about it. As depicted here, his entire career is based on a false image, and he lies to everyone around him -- except those who are in on it with him, who have to lie as well. Even when confronted with proof of his deception, he tries to maintain his innocence, until finally he can't hide it any more. 

Violence

A few sequences show harrowing bicycle crashes at high speed. Some yelling/heated arguments.

Sex
Language

Language includes "s--t" and "f--k."

Consumerism

Armstrong's team sponsors, Morotola and U.S. Postal Service, are named and shown frequently. Other sponsors' logos are also shown, including American Airlines. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some social drinking at meals and pubs. The bulk of the movie is about bicycle racers taking performance-enhancing drugs; many scenes show them taking shots or getting IV treatments, and even more show them lying about it and planning how to hide it. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Program is a biopic about once-acclaimed bicycle racer Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster). The movie follows the trajectory of Armstrong's career as he wins the grueling Tour de France an unprecedented seven times -- all the while, it turns out, depending on performance-enhancing drugs. Many scenes show Armstrong and his fellow athletes getting shots and taking IV drugs to boost their riding abilities, but in the end the message is that the truth will eventually come out, and cheaters don't come out ahead. Expect some social drinking and strong language (mostly "s--t" and "f--k"). If parents watch with their teens, the movie could serve as an entry point to discuss the consequences of drug use.

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What's the story?

Once a frustrated, middle-of-the-pack bicycle racer, Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster) decides the only way to get ahead is to start taking performance-enhancing drugs. That's when he starts THE PROGRAM, a sophisticated doping plan that involves his entire team and vaults him to the top of his sport. But his swift, dramatic improvement catches the eye of journalist David Walsh (Chris O'Dowd), who sets out to expose Armstrong.

Is it any good?

The Lance Armstrong story is one of epic betrayal and disappointment -- great fodder for a searing biopic, you'd think; but The Program feels surprisingly inert, despite its stellar lead actor. The film treats all of the story's highs and lows as if there are no peaks and valleys, only a straight line, robbing it of suspense and emotion. Some of this could be attributed to the fact that so many of us already know what happened to Armstrong, but plenty other public figures have seen their lives unfurl onscreen to dramatic success.

Foster is the highlight of the film and the main reason to see it. But even he can't overcome the movie's inability to crack Armstrong's surface. In the end, we still don't understand why he did what he did, even if we get plenty of details on how. And that's a huge disappointment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about cheating in sports. Why does Armstrong feel compelled to take performance-enhancing drugs? Do you think his behavior is unusual? If doping is common in high-level athletics, what does that say about sports -- and our expectations for athletes?

  • Do you see a difference in the way the media tends to portray drugs like the ones Armstrong used and substances like alcohol, narcotics, and smoking? How are the consequences similar and different?

  • Do you think The Program is accurate and fair in its portrayal of Armstrong? Why might filmmakers not adhere strictly to the facts in movies based on real life? How could you find out more about the actual events and people portrayed in the film?

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