The first act here strikes an odd balance. It portrays Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster)
as a sympathetic protagonist, forced into doping because if he wanted to win, well then that was the only way. Everybody else was doing it, so why shouldn’t he? Especially when he has had to fight off cancer, a time in his life depicted as an awful battle in grim, shadowed hospital rooms.
Lance’s return sees him convinced that doping is the only way, and he embraces the work of his Doctor Michele Ferarri (Guillaume Canet) and is rewarded with seven consecutive tour de France victories.
He is friend to Presidents and celebrities, adored for his charity which raises millions for cancer research, happily married with children, and one of the greatest athletes on Earth.
Only David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) is disgusted. If everybody can see there is something wrong within cycling, then everybody is happy to stay silent. But Walsh cannot. He rants and asks questions, and it is then, when he is backed into a corner, that we see another side of Lance. He bullies, threatens, sues. He uses cancer and his charity as a shield. He gets away with it. Until he doesn’t anymore.
The procedural aspects of this story are its most interesting element.
How Armstrong and his team doped, how he escaped detection for so long. But director Frears and screenwriter John Hodge want this to be something of a character study, and that is where the film comes somewhat unstuck.
Armstrong loves winning, loves a battle. But that doesn’t explain him, explain his controlling aggression, explain the way he destroys those who oppose him. Ben Foster does his best, but when his Armstrong looks into a mirror he seems like an empty puppet. These filmmakers don’t understand this man. And that leaves the film curiously hollow.