If any film could be described as "exhilaratingly dispassionate," Michael Ritchie's icy take on the world of professional athletics would be it. One of a pair of image-skewering films the director made with mega-star Robert Redford at the height of his popularity -- 1972's The Candidate being the other -- Downhill Racer never goes for the easy satirical punchline in its analysis of Redford's arrogant Olympic skier, David Chappellet. Instead, the movie has documentary-style snippets of his life on and off the slopes, and the ski scenes and supporting characters are conveyed with so much scruffy, propulsive realism that David -- the hub that holds them all together -- seems all the more shallow and undeserving. In the end, Ritchie and Redford expose the time-honored fallacy that a talented performer is as passionate and charismatic outside of the spotlight as he or she is in it. Although very much a piece with the late-'60s, early-'70s New Hollywood trend towards unsavory protagonists and social exposés, Downhill Racer's unflinching portrait of hollowness almost bears more in common with the empty anti-heroes of such literary works as John Updike's Rabbit novels, John Cheever's Falconer, or Jerzy Kosinski's Being There (the latter of which Hal Ashby would potently adapt for the screen in 1979).
by Michael Hastings review