Don’t let the name put you off. If you aren’t already aware of Downhill Racer, it follows David Chappellet (Robert Redford), an ambitious American alpine skier who is young and at times difficult to manage for Team Coach Eugene Clair (Gene Hackman). The film feels authentic and that might be partially down to most of the film being filmed on location in Austria, Switzerland and France as well as Idaho Springs, USA. There is very interesting camerawork, such as close-ups before and after races which effectively express the intensity of the race and media attention. However, the film does get a fair amount of criticism for being “stylised” – a criticism I don’t really see as fair. I think it would be fairer if there wasn’t any substance to the film and all cheap gimmicks.
Chappellet is an ambitious yet capable skier who early on refuses to race due to a poor seeding which he sees as preventing all possibility of him winning the race. The film is all about Chappellet, his relationship with his team, coach, father and prospective girlfriend (Camilla Sparv). However, the performances from both Redford and Hackman make the film. The beautiful surroundings and intriguing story don’t hurt it either, but I fail to see why the film garners so much criticism.
There are fantastic displays of skiing and the interesting use of first-person perspective for Robert Redford’s racing mostly – perhaps as an easy solution to overcoming the technical ability actually needed to be a top Olympic skier. It is possible the film has been treated with subtle and modest praise because the film itself is subtle and modest, maybe because the sport of skiing in USA at that time, and now, is not taken seriously?