THE ART OF WINNING
It is not often enough that Criterion releases a thoroughly American production such as this, so I took particular interest in Downhill Racer. A young Gene Hackman coaches an even younger Robert Redford and the USA Olympic Ski Team to victory, but at what cost? Redford’s protagonist, David Chappellet, is a prick; self-righteous and uncompromising in his quest for athletic admiration. Are these truly the qualities of a champion? Chapellet’s rise to the top is fragile. He is for the most part a pawn manipulated by Hackman, bent on realizing his dream of the States gaining acceptance on the global skiing scene. This fresh, if cynical take turns the typical American sports film on its head. The eventual and expected climax is totally unsatisfying, but this is the point. Shouldn’t winning feel good? Thanks to visceral photography and an uneasy tone (the beats are familiar, but it feels like laughing at a joke you know isn’t funny), Downhill Racer paints a gritty, realistic portrait of competition. How one plays the game ultimately doesn’t matter, it seems.