Downhill Racer (1969) is one of the best movies about sports – about winning and the mystique of sport. “What does winning really mean?” was what Robert Redford, one of the producers and the one who brought director Michael Ritchie and screenwriter James Salter together, wanted the movie to be about. Why don’t they make more movies on this subject? What makes it so good is that it feels real, in part due to the fine camera work (giving you a skier’s eye view of skiing down a slope – no special effects involved, which only makes it even more authentic), in part due to the semi-documentaristic approach, and in part due to the main character, David Chappellet, beautifully and understatedly played by Redford. He is a member of the US skiing team and what I love about the character is that he is presented unidimensional, from the angle of a driven, self-centered professional sportsman, without insisting on his private life, or any personal drama or feelings. Skiing and winning are all that matter to him, and I think this is true with all champions. “I’ll be famous, I’ll be a champion”, he tells his father, that’s all he is interested in, dismissing any interest even in the financial side. He is a loner, unworldly and ignorant, not very good at socializing, communicating or feeling anything for anybody too deeply. He disregards rules and shows no humility. He is arrogant because he knows he is the best, and ruthlessly and single-mindedly pursues the goal of winning the Olympic gold medal. In another beautiful performance is Gene Hackman as the team coach.
photo: Paramount Pictures