His first feature film, the 1969 Downhill Racer is one of Michael Ritchie‘s efforts concerning competition, and like his Smile, an admirable effort it is.
The best thing about it is Robert Redford‘s acting as David Chappellet, a skiier who aspires to be an Olympic champion. Chappellet had humble beginnings—with an unloving father, in fact—and grew up with no real education. This, says his coach (Gene Hackman), is “not enough” for an Olympic competitor. Though he wins races, Chappellet is cocky and irresponsible, an athletic know-nothing. He is a poor representative of the United States. Will he learn?
In Redford we see an enticing intelligence. He has thorough understanding of his character, with James Salter‘s fine screenplay enabling him to shine in every nuance. The account of Chappellet’s life is always absorbing. Indeed, the interlude with him and high-class lover Carole (Camilla Sparv—not the actor that Redford and Hackman are) could have gotten boring, but it doesn’t. I don’t much like the music by Kenyon Hopkins, but Ritchie directs with an artist’s eye. I don’t know whether there is any true resolution at the end of Downhill Racer, but at any rate, to my mind, as a movie it never goes downhill.