TORONTO • The rise and fall of cyclist Lance Armstrong, from cancer-beating Tour de France champion to admitted drug cheat, made for an epic heist movie, said the director of The Program.
It had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival during the weekend.
"I think it is a crime story, I think it's a heist movie," British director Stephen Frears said. "He pulled it off and then he threw it all away."
Texas-born Armstrong raised hundreds of millions of dollars as the public face of a cancer charity while winning seven Tour de France editions from 1999 to 2005. He was stripped of those victories in 2012 after he was condemned as a doping mastermind.
After years of denials, he admitted to doping in 2013. He is still fighting a life ban and a US$100 million (S$140 million) lawsuit.
Actor Ben Foster, who plays Armstrong, took performance-enhancing drugs while filming. "I wanted to understand the culture on a cellular level," he said of the method-acting technique.
"I believe Lance saw the world differently after he survived cancer. After that, he came to the conclusion winning is life, and losing is death."
The Program documents the dark side of professional cycling which still struggles to shake off suspicions of cheating.
"It's a profession in which people other than Lance Armstrong are called domestiques," Frears said, citing the French word for servant.
It was Armstrong's decision to return from retirement in 2009 that ultimately proved his downfall, turning fellow riders like Floyd Landis against him.
Chris O'Dowd plays Sunday Times journalist David Walsh, who was suspicious of Armstrong from early in his inspirational journey from hospital bed and wheelchair to Tour de France podium.
Walsh's book, Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit Of Lance Armstrong, forms the narrative backbone for the film. The latter draws too from a 2012 report of the United States Anti-Doping Agency that said the cyclist's career was "fuelled from start to finish by doping".