Tag Archives: Ben Foster

The Program (2015, Stephen Frears)

The Program does not tell a particularly filmic story. It doesn’t have a rewarding dramatic arc. Telling the story of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, with Ben Foster in the role–and as the film’s main character–does not offer many moments of joy. Foster’s spellbinding. He humanizes the sociopath enough to make him understandable in his cruelty. The Program is not a mystery, it starts with Foster figuring out how to cheat. At no moment is he playing the hero, not even when he does something heroic. It’s nearly a biopic, albeit an inspiring one, but it’s also a condemnation of character.

Rightly so too. But it does mean having an “anti-hero” in the lead position of the film and that situation holds The Program back. There’s a lot of historical footage used for the bike racing. While director Frears and cinematographer Danny Cohen do shoot some excellent cycling sequences, this film isn’t about the sport. It’s not about the thrill of it. It’s not even about the cost of fraud, if only because the subject isn’t capable of feeling guilt. Foster’s performance is phenomenal in the third act, when things come crashing down, because he’s got to collapse silently. It’s a tour de force performance (no pun) without a great defining scene. He never faces off with the people he’s tried to ruin. He’s a snake. He has a lawyer do it. And Foster’s perfect at it.

In the antagonist positions are Chris O’Dowd as the reporter who tries to figure out why Armstrong has to brake while going uphill. For a while, O’Dowd has a lot to do. Then he disappears. He’s excellent, but the film just doesn’t have enough for him to do. The same goes for Jesse Plemons as one of Foster’s teammates. He’s great, he has a complex arc (sort of), but he doesn’t have a lot to do. Again, history fails to provide the necessary melodrama.

Once things get legal, Cohen and Frears employ some odd spherical lenses to create claustrophobia in the Panavision frame. It’s not successful, but Frears is more about his actors, more about the way the film conveys its narrative than its visual sense. In many ways, The Program is just watching to see what Foster is going to do next, just like the viewer.

Good support from Guillaume Canet and Denis Ménochet. Cohen’s photography, spherical choices aside, is strong. The same goes for Valerio Bonelli’s editing. Except the historical footage. It might have made sense if it were a metaphor for O’Dowd waxing poetic about cycling turned into a fraud, but it isn’t. It’s mostly an expository shortcut, a budget requirement.

The film starts strong, but it’s obviously relying on its actors and on John Hodge’s sturdy, methodical, somewhat thankless script. Frears takes the time to set up expectations, then lets Foster surpass them all. The Program doesn’t want to answer all the questions its raises, it’s happy to just come up with some good questions. It might limit the film’s overall potential, but Foster, O’Dowd, Plemons, Cohen and Frears all do excellent work here.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Frears; screenplay by John Hodge, based on a book by David Walsh; director of photography, Danny Cohen; edited by Valerio Bonelli; music by Alex Heffes; production designer, Alan MacDonald; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Tracey Seward and Kate Solomon; released by StudioCanal.

Starring Ben Foster (Lance Armstrong), Jesse Plemons (Floyd Landis), Chris O’Dowd (David Walsh), Guillaume Canet (Medecin Michele Ferrari), Denis Ménochet (Johan Bruyneel), Lee Pace (Bill Stapleton), Edward Hogg (Frankie Andreu), Elaine Cassidy (Betsy Andreu) and Dustin Hoffman (Bob Hamman).


RELATED

Advertisements

Liberty Heights (1999, Barry Levinson)

Liberty Heights is about protagonist Ben Foster's last year in high school. Levinson never puts it in such simple terms because the film is about quiet, deliberate, but perceivable life events. Every moment in the film's memorable because Levinson is going through these people's memorable moments of the year. Of course, he never forecasts the film will take place over a year. Heights is an epical story, lyrically told.

Levinson splits the film primarily between Foster and Adrien Brody, as his older brother. But Joe Mantegna, as their father, and Orlando Jones, as Mantenga's business antagonist, also get some of the individual focus. So Levinson, along with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, editor Stu Linder and composer Andrea Morricone have to figure out how to identify these moments for the characters. Through the sound, the light, everything has to be perfect because of Levinson's approach.

It seems like a precarious approach–to set up a film to only have intense scenes; even scenes with Foster watching television or Brody talking to a friend, they all have to be intense in some way or another. Morricone's score is gorgeous and exuberant, but Levinson also uses contemporary popular music to get the scenes done too.

The performances are essential. Foster, Brody, Jones. All three are phenomenal. Bebe Neuwirth's great as Foster and Brody's mother, Rebekah Johnson is excellent as Foster's friend. The entire supporting cast is perfect.

Heights is simultaneously ambitious in its filmmaking, but also in its sincerity. It never hits a false note.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Barry Levinson; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; edited by Stu Linder; music by Andrea Morricone; production designer, Vincent Peranio; produced by Levinson and Paula Weinstein; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Adrien Brody (Van Kurtzman), Ben Foster (Ben Kurtzman), Rebekah Johnson (Sylvia), David Krumholtz (Yussel), Bebe Neuwirth (Ada Kurtzman), Orlando Jones (Little Melvin), Richard Kline (Charlie), Vincent Guastaferro (Pete), Justin Chambers (Trey Tobelseted), Carolyn Murphy (Dubbie), James Pickens Jr. (Sylvia’s Father), Frania Rubinek (Grandma Rose), Anthony Anderson (Scribbles), Kiersten Warren (Annie the Stripper), Evan Neumann (Sheldon), Kevin Sussman (Alan Joseph Zuckerman), Gerry Rosenthal (Murray), Shane West (Ted) and Joe Mantegna (Nate Kurtzman).


RELATED

3:10 to Yuma (2007, James Mangold)

Another remake where they credit the original screenwriter as a contributing writer in order not to call it a remake.

Halsted Welles wrote the original 3:10 to Yuma’s screenplay… not sure why Mangold and the producers thought Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, writers of some vapid action movies, would match him.

I assume Brandt and Haas added the stuff where Logan Lerman (as Christian Bale’s kid, who tails along while Bale takes prisoner Russell Crowe to catch a prison train) is horrified to see how Chinese laborers were treated.

Yuma’s actually—with the exception of Marco Beltrami’s awful score—rather well-produced. Mangold composes the Panavision frame well. It’s not a significant film, but a competent one.

With the exception of the acting, of course. There’re so many people around Bale and Crowe, it barely feels like the two are supposed to be acting off each other. Worse, Bale’s terrible. The film opens with Lerman acting circles around him.

Mangold casts about half the film well and the other half awful. Gretchen Mol is Bale’s wife (and the only time he’s the better actor is in their scenes together). Peter Fonda’s weak, so’s Kevin Durand. However, Dallas Roberts, Alan Tudyk and Vinessa Shaw are all strong. Mangold’s got a surprise actor at one point and it livens things up. Yuma’s boring and not in a good way. Without a dynamic performance to match Crowe’s, it drags.

Well, Ben Foster’s pretty dynamic… but he’s not opposite Crowe.

It’s nearly decent.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Mangold; screenplay by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, based on a short story by Elmore Leonard; director of photography, Phedon Papamichael; edited by Michael McCusker; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Andrew Menzies; produced by Cathy Konrad; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Russell Crowe (Ben Wade), Christian Bale (Dan Evans), Ben Foster (Charlie Prince), Dallas Roberts (Grayson Butterfield), Peter Fonda (Byron McElroy), Gretchen Mol (Alice Evans), Alan Tudyk (Doc Potter), Kevin Durand (Tucker), Vinessa Shaw (Emma Nelson) and Logan Lerman (William Evans).


RELATED

The Mechanic (2011, Simon West)

It would be going far to say The Mechanic almost succeeds. There’s not very much it could succeed at–while a remake, the film could have been another in star Jason Statham’s Transporter franchise; there’s nothing distinctive about it. Except maybe Mark Isham’s awful score.

The film opens with some of director West’s worst work. Luckily, he tones down his rapid cuts after the pre-title sequence (which clears up whether he makes bad choices intentionally… he does). He never establishes a tone; even in Panavision, he keeps close to the actors and the New Orleans setting is wasted. But he does approach the low end of bland incompetence, an achievement for him.

It helps having Statham around. Statham’s made this film before; not just the Transporter series, but basically everything he headlines. The scenes with him and Ben Foster show what a waste the dumb action genre is for Statham. He can hold his own with Foster, who–and The Mechanic is just another example of it–is the finest character actor of his generation and probably the last too.

Richard Wenk’s script has some fine little moments for Foster and an action scene every seven minutes or so. It’s not clear if Lewis John Carlino (who wrote the original and is credited here as co-writer) actually contributed anything to this version or if the filmmakers didn’t want to call it a remake.

Foster and Statham make it pass easier than it should… but the ending’s still crap.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Simon West; screenplay by Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino, based on a story by Carlino; director of photography, Eric Schmidt; edited by T.G. Herrington and Todd E. Miller; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Richard Lassalle; produced by René Besson, Robert Chartoff, William Chartoff, Rob Cowan, Marcy Drogin, Avi Lerner, John Thompson, David Winkler and Irwin Winkler; released by CBS Films.

Starring Jason Statham (Arthur Bishop), Ben Foster (Steve McKenna), Tony Goldwyn (Dean), Donald Sutherland (Harry McKenna), Jeff Chase (Burke), Mini Anden (Sarah) and James Logan (Jorge Lara).


RELATED