Downhill Racer

An influential and extremely well-done sports film, worth watching even if you don't normally enjoy films of this type. Documentarian in style, DOWNHILL RACER is a strangely dispassionate but captivating look behind the glamorous facade of international ski racing. Redford, who did much of his own skiing, stars as Davis Chappellet, a self-centered, success-hungry...read more

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An influential and extremely well-done sports film, worth watching even if you don't normally enjoy films of this type. Documentarian in style, DOWNHILL RACER is a strangely dispassionate but captivating look behind the glamorous facade of international ski racing. Redford, who did much of

his own skiing, stars as Davis Chappellet, a self-centered, success-hungry skier from Colorado who is summoned to Europe when a member of the US team is injured. Over the next two racing seasons he proves himself to be one of the sport's most promising newcomers, dueling with a famous teammate

(McMullan) for the spotlight and clashing with his strong-willed coach (Hackman). In the process of chasing Olympic gold in the downhill, he fails to win approval from his father and is unable to maintain a relationship with a beautiful ski manufacturer's assistant (Sparv).

Redford, who was determined to make a skiing film, went to great lengths to sell the project: soliciting a screenplay from James Salter, enlisting a team of ski bums and photographers to shoot 20,000 feet of action on the sly at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics, and giving Michael Ritchie, who provides

a sure directorial hand, his first feature film assignment. As with a number of later Ritchie films, the focus here is on the price paid in pursuit of what seems to be victory. The acting is fine all around, with kudos to Redford for being unafraid to make his character dislikable at the core.

Many of the downhill scenes were filmed by skier Joe Jay Jalbert, who raced behind Redford with a camera, adding to the film's realism and excitement. DOWNHILL RACER is fascinating viewing, even if the closest you've gotten to a ski slope is "Wide World of Sports."

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