Downhill Racer (1969) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
43 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Decent, fairly enjoyable film.
Donny_Stay20 June 2004
Warning: Spoilers
When Robert Redford delivered this film to the studio upon completion, the suits weren't sure what to do with it. How does one sell a pensive film about Pyrrhic victory? Against Redford's wishes, the studio ultimately marketed the film as a sports movie ("See hottie Robbie in exciting skiing scenes!"), and confused audiences avoided the film in droves. Redford, frustrated with the experience, created the Sundance Film Institute as a reaction to his experiences with "Downhill Racer".

Today, it is for this reason that "Downhill Racer" is best remembered, but one shouldn't overlook the work itself. The film, the first in an unfinished trilogy of films about the price of success (the second was "The Candidate"), is a thoughtful study of competition and competitiveness. Gene Hackman shines as the impatient coach, but Redford gives one of the finest performances of his career as the brooding, singular-minded athlete. Redford's performance is reason enough to watch the film, but the skiing scenes are also quite entertaining, as they fully capture the excitement and exhilaration of Olympic competition. The dark, ironic story, while slight, is still effective enough to make its point.

I shouldn't like to call this film a masterpiece; it isn't. It's a decent slice of cinema that is very unfairly maligned by too many. If you, like those studio executives, prefer a straightforward sports story in which the underdog wins and gets The Girl, look elsewhere. However, if you prefer an intelligent investigation of the human condition, well, you could do worse than "Downhill Racer".
22 out of 25 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Downhill Racer is a character study.
In this film, Robert Redford plays David Chappellet a young man training on a ski team with hopes of making the Olympics. The film is basically a character study of a somewhat narcissistic, shallow, self-centered guy from a simple rural background who dreams of attaining fame and fortune by entering the Olympics as a downhill racer. Throughout the film we see examples of his failure to connect with people. He visits his dad on his ranch and is received with complete coldness and indifference. He pulls into town and picks up an old girl friend, takes her for a ride and they have sex. Afterwards, he completely ignores her when she tries to tell him about her life. He pursues Camilla Sparv who plays the beautiful Carole Stahl. In her, he has met his match. She seems to be someone who also uses people, never lets them get very close and always has an agenda to get what she wants. She works for a ski manufacturer who seems to use her to bait the young up and coming skiing stars that he seeks to groom for product advice and future endorsements. She is narcissistic, shallow and self-centered like him but she is also elusive. This plays to the competitor in him and she knows that. Throughout the film we see Gene Hackman who plays the skiing coach Eugene Claire. We witness numerous scenes where Chappellet ignores his advice and counsel, where the coach calls him on his arrogance and selfish attitude. But in the end, they triumph and seem to be headed for the Olympics. But in the last brief scene, victory and fame seems so fickle, elusive, short lived, it all seems superficial. Redford is wonderful in this and of course, Gene Hackman is just as good. Seeing these two early in their careers, that alone makes this a film worth watching.
18 out of 20 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An unpolished gem
oldskibum216 May 2001
Redford gives a low-key performance as a thoroughly unlikable member of the US Ski Team in the late 1960's, and he doesn't become any more likable as the story unfolds. Perhaps that's why the film gets such mixed reviews. The Olympic and racing sequences have an almost-documentary look to them, and for good reason. The story goes that IOC officials refused permission for the film crew to shoot during the actual Olympic events; the producers got around that inconvenience by giving hand-held cameras to cast members so they could shoot crowd scenes and background footage on the sly. It's hard to like David Chappellet, and making him a more sympathetic character might have been easier, but I think it's a much better story as-is. As we know all too well these days, world-class athletes aren't always aren't always the charming heroes we'd like them to be.
14 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Timeless because it's dated
roy_imdb13 February 2006
For anybody who follows international sports, the characters and organizations in this movie ring true. Whether you follow skating, gymnastics, skiing, or any other essentially solo international sports, you have seen the loners, the chosen stars, the politics, fund raising, and everything else that goes on behind and in front of the scenes.

This movie captures those people and circumstances exceptionally well. As has been noted in the coverage of the Olympics, the parallels to the 2006 US downhill team are stunning. The fact that this movie was made in 1969, with the film style of the day, makes it quite dated. But it is exactly the dated fashions, music, cinematography, skiing equipment, and attitudes that make it a keeper.

Downhill Racer remains the seminal skiing movie (unless one prefers the slob humor of Hot Dog: The Movie), but it's also about bigger themes. Redford is the quintessential American loner, out for his own goals and not interested in serving the needs of his sport, his team, or the international press. It's a character we've seen a thousand times in real life, and it's one who gets deified or demonized depending on his success in the field of sport.

So, view this very dated movie in today's context. You'll be surprised how relevant it is.
11 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Missed opportunity
james_lane-117 October 2014
There were some curious choices made when this movie was put together. There seems no reason why the film couldn't have been much more successful if it had wanted to be. It has some fine actors, the skiing is great and the plot is basically the same as "Top Gun".

Robert Redford is one of the most charming and charismatic leading men of the modern era, but here he plays an unlikeable loner. In fact, almost everyone in the film is more likable than Redford, and you really wish someone would beat some sense into him. So we don't really care that much if he wins or loses.

The film isn't helped much by the jazz score, which would work for some noir detective flick, but hardly for the high adrenaline sport of downhill racing. Pity.
9 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Skiing Into Your Living Room
directoroffantasies3 November 2004
The appeal of a ski film to those who ski is obvious. But imagine yourself innocent of skiing. Can it hold the attention of the rest of us? Roone Arledge and his "Wide World of Sports" provided one answer, as Jean Claude Killy and his successors skied into American living rooms on many winter Saturdays. "Downhill Racer" seconds the motion.

The late Mike Ritchie, who'd essayed nothing more ambitious than commercials, traveled the World Cup circuit in the 1967-68 winter, accompanied by Aspen novelist Jim Salter, whose screenplay (from Oakley Hall's very different novel) effectively was written in segments the night before each shoot. Almost everything about this production was improvised.

Athletes are not necessarily interesting people. Killy was; stories about him, some even true, are legion. David Chappellet (a young Robert Redford), more typically, reminds one of the astronauts in "2001", with their limited range of expressions and nothing particularly interesting to say. This comes across powerfully in several hilarious interview scenes, with American and European journalists trying in vain to get the young man to say something worth writing down.

Wengen, Switzerland passes for several World Cup race sites. (A Swiss medico wears an armband identifying him as "Arzt", or doctor, at a supposed French venue). The filmmakers also were present in Grenoble for the Winter Olympics, providing a fictional inside look at the Games far different from that of, for example, "Chariots of Fire".

One still doesn't ski, but the pleasures of "Downhill Racer" are undeniable.
13 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Redford's Cinematic Play-Toy
Lechuguilla12 September 2010
A story about the ups and downs of a young American skier named David Chappellet (Robert Redford), as he competes in various pre-Olympic trials, in Europe, "Downhill Racer" is a film I liked not at all. The story is emotionally cold and very impersonal. And David is smug, arrogant, self-centered, egotistical, and shallow.

The plot is incredibly perfunctory. Lots of minor, inconsequential routine consumes the film. Characters spend an inordinate amount of time waiting for something to happen, which drains away any intended tension or suspense. Further, there are dozens of downhill racing scenes, all similar, and largely interchangeable, which, among other things, renders an unnecessarily repetitive plot. The story doesn't really build, but stays more or less static, until the unsatisfying ending. And the script injects way too much press coverage into the plot, which adds to the impersonal tone.

However much Redford struts, postures, and prances around, he's not at all convincing, because he looks about twenty years too old for the role. To a limited extent this is offset by the presence of lovely Camilla Sparv, in a support role.

With wide-angle lens, the camera stays way back from the action, in many scenes, acting as spectator, instead of getting up close and personal with the characters. Colors are bright, vivid, almost garish. One thing I did like was the placement of a camera on a skier in a couple of scenes, to give viewers a feel for what it's like to ski 80 m.p.h. down a mountainside.

Watching "Downhill Racer" is not unlike watching a routine ski race on television, impersonal and voyeuristic. The film accentuates the competition, the spectacle, with a main character that is not likable, and a story that is impersonal and lacks thematic depth. Redford doesn't help matters. My impression is that the film was basically his cinematic play-toy, a vanity project, given his personal interest in skiing.
8 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A good film that could have been great
jaguarxke22 January 2002
After many years of catching brief scenes of this now semi-cult film, I finally watched it in its entirety. It is not a great film, but for film students, and fans of both Gene Hackman and Robert Redford, it's a must. The opening credits are delivered over scenes of a Super G skier flying down the mountain and feature a combination of stop action and over-cranked footage. The film quality is beautiful, and although the techniques now seem dated, they stand for what was cutting-edge editing at the time. Watching the opening, you feel like you're in for a great ride but are sadly let down by a staid script. Having said that, the film can sort of get a way with this (at least to a certain extent) because you've got such great actors playing the main roles of skier (Redford) and coach (Hackman). Both know how to exploit the economy of language and show a lot simply with body language and expression. (They must have realized they had to with this script.) Add to that fact, that the character Redford is playing - a vainglorious Super G racer named David Chappellett, probably wouldn't have much to say.

Ultimately, the film serves as cinematic commentary on how fleeting success is in a sport like skiing, as well as the shallowness shown by both the press that cover the sport, and the women that covet the skiers.
8 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Downhill from here...
Lejink2 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Rather like Paul Newman and Steve McQueen with their racing car movies this has all the appearance of a "jollies" project for Robert Redford, as he gets to ski up hill and down dale in the Alpine sunshine.

The story is as light as powdered snow with Redford's small-town boy David Chappellet (what kind of lead name is that?) who with his eyes on the prize of Olympic glory, gets up the nose of, in no particular order, his coach, father and team-mates. Women are a mere side-show in his insular world as evidenced by a fairly distasteful pick-up scene with an old girlfriend in his hometown and then his selfishly petulant pursuit of, heavens above, a free-thinking, independent woman, played by Camilla Sparv. The ski-ing sequences are fine with some good stunt-work involving numerous bumps and scrapes on the piste but their effectiveness is dimmed by our subsequent familiarity with top TV coverage of skiing events down to the present day. Plus I'm not convinced that the Winter Olympics has the same mass identification with the general public as the summer games so that when Redford eventually wins his gold medal in the final reel, I couldn't really be that excited for him one way or another.

Of the actors, Redford, best profile forward, doesn't need to do much and indeed doesn't, while Gene Hackman does better with equally meagre material. Ms Sparv does well as the chief female interest well who treats Redford the way he's doubtless treated every other woman in his chauvinistic way.

In truth though, there's a lack of dramatic tension throughout for which the action sequences don't fully compensate and you don't care a fig for any of the leading characters. One of those films where the actors probably enjoyed making it more than the viewers did watching it.
7 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
What it's like when you get what you want...
wronglead4 May 2002
Gene Hackman is the coach; Robert Redford the star skier looking for Olympic Gold and himself. This is a wonderful character study of a man who wants to succeed above all else. Hackman is wonderful (as always) as the coach who tries to manage a team of individuals who are trying to break through into big time international skiing. Redford was brilliant in playing complicated introspective young men... Three Days of the Condor, Jeremiah Johnson, The Candidate. These set the stage for his later great work in Out of Africa and even Havana (another very very good movie panned by the critics). Even the ending is perfect. Enjoy.
8 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Rousing snowy outdoors and Robert Redford as a capricious and cocky skier
ma-cortes16 October 2012
Sport movie about an egoist man who unites a notorious ski team , it's mainly a character study . It deals with a small-town egotist named David Chappellet (Robert Redford in one of his earliest protagonists roles) joins U.S. ski team as downhill racer and clashes with the team's coach (Gene Hackman). Meanwhile , David falls in love with a beautiful and glamorous girl (Camilla Sparv who married Robert Evans of Paramount)

Colorful and vivid story about ski sports with Robert Redford as a bleak and grimly character as a quietly mean-spirited sportsman who joins USA Olympic Games Ski team . Lots of dazzling skiing action leading to an thrilling highlight . Redford did all his own skiing for this , ten days before shooting began , he accidentally drove a snowmobile over a cliff, tearing his tendon and requiring seven stitches in his knee . Redford's good performance and a gorgeous Camilla Sparv ; however , both of them are two unappealing characters . Fine secondary cast but playing brief interventions as Karl Michael Vogler as Machet , Kathleen Crowley as American Newspaper Woman , Dabney Coleman as Mayo and cameo by Natalie Wood who appeared, well-disguised, as an extra in some crowd scenes ; she worked as an assistant behind the scenes , she typed script revisions, shopped for wardrobe and props . Worth enduring for the spectacular ski scenes that are justly the basic visual splendors . Astonishing Alpine location cinematography being splendidly filmed by cameraman Brian Probyn . Shot on location in Boulder, Colorado, USA (training track scenes) Durango, Colorado, and Kitzbühel and Europe : Tyrol, Austria , Wengen, Lauterbrunnen, Kanton Bern, Switzerland . Atmospheric and enjoyable musical score by Kenyon Hopkins .

Michael Ritchie's visceral feature film debut for which he was hired by Robert Redford ; being efficiently directed but hard to amusing . He started his career as an assistant producer in television in the early 1960s and repeating with Robert Redford in ¨The candidate¨. Sports continued to be his forte, his greatest box-office successes being satirical movies about baseball ¨Bad New Bears (1976)) and gridiron ¨Semi-Tough¨(1977)) and ¨Wildcats¨ (1986) . With less commercial success , he took a humorous swipe at beauty pageants with the underrated film ¨Smile¨ (1975). While his work became more mainstream during the 1980's, it does include a few memorable comedies, notably ¨Fletch¨(1985) and its sequel ¨Fletch lives¨(1989) . But also made agreeable comedies such as ¨The survivors ¨, ¨The couch trip¨, ¨The golden child¨ , ¨A simple wish¨ and even Noir film as ¨Prime cut¨. Rating : Acceptable and passable .
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The pursuit of success - this time, on the mountain.
malcolmi12 October 2007
Downhill Racer is about Olympic skiing, but it's also about American society, and about how sport gives the illusion of being an escape from the loneliness of being undereducated.

Dave Chappellet (Robert Redford) grew up in the isolation of rural Colorado, where the career option after high school is working on a ranch or going to Denver to take a hairdressing course. His talent on skis has earned him a call to the US national ski team as a replacement after one of the members fractures his leg in a European race. When he arrives in Germany after what seems to have been his first airplane flight, he meets his new roommate, a Dartmouth graduate, one of several team members from that same Eastern undergraduate world.

Chappellet remains cautious and defensive as he tries to navigate the manners, attitudes, and values of the team and of the European civilization he encounters. He's made even more prickly by the code of team play which he's required to accept from his demanding coach, Eugene Clair (Gene Hackman). Clair believes that good sportsmanship and team solidarity are the basis for success in international skiing, and that's important because success is what will achieve financial support for the team from American business. But Chappellet refuses to play the sportsmanship game - partly because he knows he can't speak the Ivy League language his teammates have mastered, and partly because he knows that winning is the only way he'll stay on the team, and Clair's concept of sportsmanship won't help him win, any more than would the attitude or values of Chappellet's embittered father back in Colorado. Dave Chappellet know he's going to have to ski his own race, always.

Downhill Racer features a variety of exciting ski races filmed and edited with great skill, and they reveal very powerfully that, in the midst of all the thousands of spectators, each skier is alone on the mountain, and that winning comes from a combination of relentless focus and arbitrary fortune. With this truth presented so clearly and compellingly, Chappellet's refusal to play his coach's game is validated. On race day he has to ski faster than anyone else. No one else can help him. And neither will membership in the right club (or school, or social background). He has to do it on his own.

But being on your own is very lonely. Chappellet begins to want to belong, and chases after a kind of club membership in Europe, pursuing the very attractively worldly Carole Stahl (Camilla Sparv), executive assistant to a German ski manufacturer. He catches her because he's becoming famous, and thus useful, but discovers that he's not important to her. He's a pleasant diversion, but he can be discarded as easily as a pair of gloves. He receives praise from his coach, but only after winning races. Until he wins, he's the target of Clair's angry lectures about not thinking of the good of the team. Hackman's strangled speech and look of frustrated disgust as he berates the uncooperative Redford for having taken an unacceptable risk after practice create a high-water mark in American film acting, as does the surly self-centredness of Redford's response.

At the end of the movie, narrowly dodging defeat in the most important race in his career, Chappellet is hoisted on the crowd's shoulders in a frozen moment of apparent triumph. But only one value exists - winning. And his win is already history. There's no love in it, no acceptance more profound than his coach's praise, the crowd's shouts of excitement. And tomorrow's winner is already eyeing him in an unspoken challenge. Dave Chappellet is going to be skiing down this mountain alone for the rest of his life.

Looking back across nearly forty years to watch this excellent film, we can already begin to hear the question asked by Robert Redford's character in The Candidate, "What happens next?" The answer may be bleak - more competition, more loneliness - but the film helps us discover the answer in a fascinating way, because it puts us on those skis, rushing at impossible speed down the mountain, in a cocoon of our own heartbeats, our own laboured breathing. We're forced to ask ourselves, "Would we make the team? Would we win? And if we did, would it mean anything?"
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
paul2001sw-125 July 2004
Director Michael Ritchie and actor Robert Redford's second documentary-style drama, 'The Candidate', is a political satire that still seems fresh and pertinent today. So it's a pity that 'Downhill Racer', made a short time before, seems so dated by contrast. The music is ugly, and the perhaps innovative ski-ing sequences are now standard in televisual coverage of the sport. The world of ski-ing seems strangely amateurish (probably accurately, given the time the movie was made, but it's hard to relate to today's professional world), and the theme of Americans in Europe likewise seems hundrum in an age of ever easier travel. Perhaps the biggest problem is the flat plot, centred on the arrogant but enigmatic hero; unfortunately, it's a dreary performance from Redford, offering us little insight into his cares or motivations. And a character-driven film without much of a character is never a good bet. I expected much, but sadly this is a boring movie.
8 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Spartan sports flick
RNMorton1 January 2003
Cocky loner Redford joins Hackman's Olympic men's ski team, ready to set the world on fire. I don't agree with the lead comment that there isn't enough action in this movie, but there is something else that's missing, not sure what - maybe it's that the presentation is very simple and almost bleak. It could be considered a character study rather than an sports movie, except that the reason for Redford's enigmatic behavior is never really explained. Hackman and Redford are both excellent in their respective and often adverse roles. Worth a view.
7 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Decent Ski Movie, Redford Doing His Loner Thing
mhlong7 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
After reading the several pages of comments, I wonder if some of the other reviewers really 'saw' this film. I grew up loving the sport of skiing and when the movie came out, I was almost obsessed with skiing. Unfortunately, I'm from the flatlands and so had to content myself for most of the year with vicarious experiences like Warren Miller films and marginal movies like Killy's 'Snow Job' and 'Hot Dog – The Movie' ('Better Off Dead' was a much better film from a skiing standpoint). Miller's films were fine, but those other two movies were trash. Of course, none of them, not even this one, could compete with 'Ski the Outer Limits' and 'The Moebius Flip', but those were in another league altogether.

So, we have Downhill Racer…. the biography of Bill Johnson. OK, not really, because Johnson could give great interviews. But the brash American who believed only in himself, well, I guess Bode would now also fit. The humor in the movie was that when it was made, the European skiing community scoffed. Not that it was a good or bad movie, but they could not accept a plot where an American!!! could win the Olympic Downhill Gold. Remember this was before 1984 and Bill Johnson.

Being an avid skier (even club racing) and reading everything I could find (several mags and two newsletters, besides many books), I had an awareness of some of the lesser known stories. And there was certainly some leeway taken in how the movie was presented. For example, at that time, World Cup skiing was pretty much amateur for the Americans and fully professional for the Europeans, although totally under the table (Avery Brundage – the last Olympic commissioner to have an absurd fantasy belief in amateurism - couldn't control the Europeans but he ruled with an iron fist over the Americans).

Often, quite competitive American skiers were left at home because the National team budget didn't have enough money. Or how Karl Schranz (sort of who the character, Max Meier, was based on) was robbed of the Downhill medal in 1964 by Jean Claude Killy (or rather by the judges at the French resort where it was held). And that the American ski team was more than just male downhillers (oh, yes, with women barely mentioned in the movie during that interview with the rather naïve American reporter), when in reality it included slalom and giant slalom racers, some of whom raced in the 3 disciplines available then (the Cochrans, the Palmers, the Mahres are easy examples).

The irony of the final scene in the movie, is that here, after all that David Chappellet put into winning the Olympic gold, by the time he did, he is no longer the young brash new skier on the block. The kid that almost beat him, was in reality a younger, brasher, newer version, that, looking at both as the one skis off the course and the other again accepts the accolades that had almost dried up, makes us think that at the height of his fame and glory, poor David Chappellet is now washed up, a has been, for the skiing community is about to move on to its next wunderkid.

One or more of the other reviewers here erroneously wrote that the competition was a Super G. Well, since the Olympics allowed all comers (sort of, remember the Jamaican Bobsled team and Eddie the amateur ski jumper), they regularly 'dumbed' down the Olympic downhill courses so they became what we think of as today's Super-G. The Europeans knew that the real yearly races like the Hahnenkamm or Lauberhorn were the true tests of downhill racing. Also, the yearly winners of the World Cup as well as the World Alpine Championships were held in much higher regard by the racers and cognoscenti than Olympic winners, unless it was one of the chosen Europeans who won the Gold, of course.

Redford, in an interview, said he especially liked the scenes that his character had with his father back home (in Idaho Springs, Ida…no, Colorado) during the off season. I found those dreary at best. It reminded me of that scene in 'Love Story' where the hero, who was ONLY captain of the Harvard Ice Hockey Team was sneered at by his father who had been an OLYMPIC competitor. Of course, I did get a little hungry for some Ritz crackers while watching Redford. I'm not sure how you can live in the mountains, that kind of setting, and not know anything about competitive skiing, or at least the Olympics. By the 60's thanks to Jim McKay and Wide World of Sports, most people had heard of Killy and were now commonly confusing Billy Kidd with Jean-Claude. Such is the price of fame.

For a ski movie, the race scenes were riveting, the acting of people like Gene Hackman and Dabney Coleman was quite adequate, the beauty of Camilla Sparv was eye pleasing. It was a decent movie, but still confined to a certain time. Better to watch the movie as a part of a series in the career of Redford – Downhill Racer, Little Fauss and Big Halsey, ending with The Candidate, where he began to play larger characters. He was still the loner, but in a bigger and often more important setting. At least here he had broken out of his 'silly' movies – 'Inside Daisy Clover', 'The Chase', 'This Property is Condemned' and the like, even 'Barefoot in the Park' in some ways, his first starring movie. Of course, it was 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' that completely changed the way we looked at Redford, both past and present.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
the title says it all
disdressed1211 April 2010
Robert Redford plays the title character.he's cocky and and arrogant.,and not a team player.then again ,skiing is really a team sport,is it?Gene Hackman plays the U.S. Ski team's coach.anyway,there isn't a lot in the way of action.there are a few shots of the skiers racing down the hill,a few from their point of's more of a character's not exactly boring but not really exciting does have a bleak,dreary feeling through out for some is interesting enough to sustain interest,but it's not something i would watch again for a long could do a lot worse,though.for me,Downhill Racer is 5/10
5 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Brilliantly assembled film is really all externals...visually involving yet emotionally hollow
moonspinner5518 October 2009
Old-fashioned sports drama given very modern look and feel, mixing 16mm footage with 35mm for an exhilarating visual effect. Robert Redford is quite good portraying an extremely self-assured skier from Idaho Springs, Colorado who is picked as a substitute member on an American team competing in Europe; after a humiliating wipe-out fails to derail his ego, he returns to the States for training with the Winter Olympics just two years away. "Downhill Racer", directed by the debuting Michael Ritchie, is a low-keyed character study masquerading as a sports film--and yet the skiing action is what most viewers end up remembering. The two halves are blended together thanks to punchy editing and the handsome presentation (and by the personalities brought forth by Redford and Gene Hackman as the team's coach), though the macho-subdued screenplay is rather verbose. Once we understand that Redford's David is a self-centered bastard, there's nothing much else to him except his good looks, and the women characters on the scene (there are no female athletes) are sex-objects or uninformed targets for ridicule. A few terrific moments, though the opening credits sequence is really cheesy and Kenyon Hopkins' score is occasionally overwrought. ** from ****
5 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Flat Script Falls Downhill
DKosty12325 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
It becomes very hard to watch this one from early on as the sequences appear to be just highlights from an afternoon on ABC's Wide World of Sports which used to run on TV when this movie was made. Yes, the skiing is okay but nothing special. No, it will not shift to the Harlem Globtrotters or Boxing during the movie.

Redford is too old for the role as a stud skier going to the Olympics to win a gold medal. He meets a woman and has some very mechanical overnight exercise with her. His coach, Hackman, try's to motivate him though Gene does not get any really inspired Hoosier type speeches here. The film is about as bland a Redford movie as can be found anywhere.

At least there are the lovely vistas that show up at times but often they are so short you see them for a few seconds and then pow your back to looking at bland stuff. What plot there is seems to be trying to capitalize on US Nationalism as the feeling of the thrill of victory for the US Skier is supposed to excite you at the end. Instead of that it is almost as bland as a poorly animated cartoon. Maybe that is why this one just does not come off.
3 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The rudiments of a plot
bkoganbing15 October 2016
This film is great if you like skiing or like to watch skiers. But I can get the same from watching the Kirk Douglas World War II era film Heroes Of Telemark.

I could make another comparison to Steve McQueen's racing film Le Mans which basically dispensed with a plot. The rudiments of a plot are present in Downhill Racer, but just barely.

Downhill Racer casts Robert Redford as a would be American skiing champion who has a royal high opinion of himself and has to be brought down to earth by his coach Gene Hackman. Both want to bring some skiing gold to the USA and away from those snowy European countries that dominate.

Of the two Hackman has a far more interesting character. Redford is strangely bland to me in this part. It makes Downhill Racer not one of his better films.

But the skiing footage is fabulous.
3 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
johnston.scot22 April 2003
This is not your typical sports film, which I think accounts for some of the negative reactions from viewers who expected a rah-rah, underdog-coming-from-behind-to-win tale. It's a dark and ironic story.

Essentially, the movie is a meditation on the "bitch-goddess Success." Redford plays an unlikable character: an overgrown child with no interest in any person or thing other than himself; a taciturn athlete who probably deserves to be called "inarticulate," though it's hard to say, as he clearly has no thoughts to articulate anyway. The dark irony of the film is that he *wins* ... and does so rather more because of, rather than in spite of, his failures as a human being.

As Francis Bacon wrote (400 years ago): "Young men worship the 'bitch-goddess success.' We spend most all of our life pursuing her and only a few succeed in catching her. This goddess demands exclusive worship, and thus, other life pursuits are often left, much to our regret in later life. So, too, this exclusive pursuit can leave us morally flabby."

The movie is also interesting as a reasonably-accurate depiction of the top level of ski racing as it existed in the late '60s. (Incidentally, he's not a professional -- ski racing and, more importantly, the Olympics were amateur at the time; and the event is Downhill (as in the title), not Super-G, which didn't even exist until 20 years later).
4 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Contemplative and illuminating behind-the-scenes look at amateur skiing is an early Ritchie milestone!
talisencrw27 September 2016
If ANY film I have ever seen comes the closest to taking a sophisticated look at what most of the world would consider to be the spoiled-rotten, prima donna, mega-talented amateur athlete (I would add 'American', but I believe they would be like Redford's characterization even if they weren't), Michael Ritchie nails it. Way underrated. And it makes you wonder, especially with the poster pictured here, if the title's a double entendre (and not just slickly-marketed sex-advertising), not merely for various OTHER curves Redford's character wants to/succeeds in navigating, but also the possible crash-and-burn Chappellet may have, if he continues his wild, burn-the-candle-at-both-ends lifestyle while participating in quite a dangerous sport. Sonny Bono-jokes aside, this kind of thing happens.

Simply marvelous work by Redford, Gene Hackman, Ritchie and cinematographer Brian Probyn. Essential purchase and rewatches for sports fans and the work of Redford, Hackman and Ritchie especially. Easily my favourite of Ritchie's work, next to, sentimentally, 'The Bad News Bears' (which is a whole different kettle of fish altogether).
3 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Distilled to Its Densest Connective Tissue
jzappa12 July 2011
This buried New Hollywood pearl literally follows and watches a single-minded outsider from Colorado who, having netted a position on the American ski team upon the lay-up of another athlete, fanatically chases the objective of winning, with a full-blown indifference to etiquette and professional fine points. David Chappellet is a cad, a handsome rough-country bumpkin who veils his social anxiety and lack of knowledge with a bold mystique. In reality, he'd simply be an ignorant rube, but here he enters the abundant class of antiheroes who rallied round to characterize American movies of their vital, unforgettable period. Even then, Chappellet gave the impression of being an aloof, intractable character, and his tough, emotionally unapproachable nature maybe contributed to the film's market letdown. Regardless, his dogged insubordination was the yardstick tackle at the time: Consider Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde, Hoffman in The Graduate, Fonda in Easy Rider, Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces and One Flew Over Cuckoo's Nest, Gould and Sutherland in M*A*S*H. So while Chappellet's posture was wholly egocentric instead of rational, his impulse to beat the system and go his own way did not then feel as radical as it does today after the Reagan and post-Reagan eras of manufactured sports victories and champion cops who treat mass destruction like a football game.

One of the film's trademark properties is hand-held footage from the viewpoint of the racers, which had never been done in a feature film before and was no Sunday stroll when the skier was doing over fifty miles per hour and the 35mm Arriflex camera weighed forty pounds. Whether or not one wants to speak in terms of its time, the film was and still is outstanding in its aura of the velocity, reverberation and pressure of competitive skiing. The chomp of the snow, the bone-freezing and muscle-constricting time lags on gusty mountaintops for a skier's rotation to come, the unstoppable tick of the timer, the archaic appearance of the skis and soft boots are all minutiae encapsulated with terse, nimble, confident strokes. Olympic connoisseurs were undivided in commending the film's correctness and candor, a scarce phenomenon in the far-fetched universe of Hollywood sports movies.

Going for an induced documentary tactic considerably shaped how the film would come across, as did the selection of hard-core verite cinematographer Brian Probyn. Together, Probyn and director Michael Ritchie have here a more or less internal documentary about Redford's body, capturing it from angles that highlight his geometry in conjunction with his attractiveness. Multiple times, Redford stops to look in a mirror and observe himself with unopinionated, unaffected frankness.

Their gritty, biting drama is stark, distilled to its densest connective tissue, as keen as arid residue. Several of the film's evocations of character and emotion go unspoken, staying within unless discriminatingly stimulated. Chappellet is a man of few words who won't budge by the narrowest margin, and it's consistent that the film frequently cuts away right when it appears he may be strained to say something, to be slightly more human than normally seems. All that he hides is suggested throughout his stopover back home in a Rockies town. His father, a friendless stick-in-the-mud, is a man of even fewer words than his son, and the curt, indignant, and self-centered outlook he squeezes out toward David's fortuity betrays all we require to go on about David's egocentric relentlessness.

The undercurrent of the climax is whether or not Chappellet will allow being given the high hat by a stylish yet emotionally unavailable Swiss beauty throw him off on the slopes, and Ritchie's deliberate, atmospheric debut eschews all the frills that would classify American sports movies by the time Rocky emerged seven years afterward. It's gristly, cynical, painstaking, minimalist and declines to fabricate unwarranted enthusiasm. The film is courageous in securing itself to a character as minimally sympathetic as Chappellet, and Redford never loses sight of the role to comfort us that he, the actor, may be less conceited and selfish than the guy in the script. Chappellet is an unmitigated self-aggrandizer, and while Redford would play such parts again, he never did so quite this uniquely, with such craving invigorated by formative years. The ideas of Downhill Racer are lucid, having to do with the temperament of rivalry and the sacrifice of triumph. The brilliant closing line of Ritchie's important second film with Redford, The Candidate, "What happens next?" said by Redford upon being elected, is understood in the ending of Downhill Racer.
3 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
" I don't think you understand, . . . I don't expect to be Given anything "
thinker169118 October 2009
In this country, every four years, our nation participates in the Winter Olympics. The finest athletes from every state strive to be chosen as part of the U.S. Olympic Team. Together they represent America. The pride of our nation accompanies these men and while abroad, our hopes and our dreams go with them. The scenic Winter Olympics are the idyllic backdrop for this film which is called " Downhill Racer. " The title role for this movie went to Robert Redford who plays David Chappelet. He is arrogant in his abilities, his performances and his skills which promise the future. Few doubt he will win a Gold Medeal. However, Eugene Claire (Gene Hackman) his coach is concerned Chapplet is a 'Hot Dog' racer, fast, but prone to accidents and unpredictable. Furthermore, he is not a team player. Instead he believes he can win without the rest of his companions. This presents a problem for Claire and America's top athletes who work to be a cohesive unit. At home and on the slopes, he must decide if he's capable of winning the Gold, but for whom, himself, his teammates or his country? The speedy downhill action sequences are beautifully crafted and the storyline is followed faithfully. An exceptional movie for the wishful, armchair athlete in all of us. ****
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Outside the Box Sports Movie
TheFearmakers4 July 2019
A movie has to be about something or someone, and reading any synopsis for DOWNHILL RACER, you'd think the main character, played by Robert Redford, was the biggest jerk on the planet. And while he is difficult and stubborn, childish and bitter, aren't all great athletes? At least the ones who have only winning on the brain...

Which is what RACER is about: not only striving to win but the formidable urge to never lose. And the U.S.A. Men's Ski Coach, Gene Hackman, knows right off that Redford's golden-haired upstart isn't a team player. But what seems to matter one minute is forgotten the next since there's hardly a plot in this underrated, avant garde curio, directed by future comedy icon Michael Ritchie, maneuvering the camera like we're on the snow with the athletes, including strategic P.O.V. shots of Redford's rushing and crushing Dave Chappellet...

Not even the inevitable love interest can slow the pace since DOWNHILL RACER has more a documentary style than the usual sports movie gusto: Absent are the cliche heartaches or feel-good adrenaline-pumping hoorays and hurrahs. Perturbed lectures from Hackman feel natural and captured instead of a means to develop the characters, which this movie intentionally lacks being more existential than energetic. Meanwhile, the sporadic race scenes happen exactly when and where they're needed...

Flowing from various competitions throughout Europe to a trip home to melancholy hometown Idaho Springs, Colorado all the way to the Olympics, the movie's audience learns about the cold, distant skier along with his fictional teammates. And by the end... one of the most suspenseful climaxes in sports film history... you'll want victory as much as he does, which is the entire point and purpose: Redford's Dave Chappellet is no damn good for anything else, and it's his skis we've lived in all along.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The solitary winner as selfish jerk
wavecat1323 May 2019
On the surface this is a pretty standard drama about an up and coming skier, with some cool footage of downhill ski runs, but a few things really make this stand out. One can see why this gets a lot of respect from film fans.

For one, the concept is very interesting. In the 1960s Robert Redford set out to make and star in a trilogy of serious films about winning and winners. There was this, and "The Candidate", and I don't think the third one ever happened. This story shows us a less pleasant side of the great American winner. Dave Chappellet is aggressive, selfish, and for the most part what is commonly known as a prick. He wants to win and doesn't care much about other people. We see where it comes from when we get a glimpse of his lonely childhood on a hardscrabble farm in Colorado, with no mother or siblings in sight and a father who doesn't much care for him.

For another, the writing is excellent. The screenplay is by the great James Salter, based on a novel by Oakley Hall.

And for a third, it stars Redford, who was then peeking as an iconic screen presence. That he makes this anti-hero seem somewhat likable and worthy of respect is a tribute to his abilities. And take a look for the scene with the Redford look-alike (lol)!
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed