On DVD: Downhill Racer (Criterion Collection)

Michael Ritchie's debut feature, Downhill Racer (1969), is a quietly thrilling, beautifully-shot film about a particularly American theme. What does it mean to be a champion? Is it a worthy goal in and of itself? These questions are posed in a far more elegant fashion by the film itself, but what's interesting about them is the fact that they are in a "sports film" at all.

Usually the key question for characters in films about athletics is, "How do I win?" We watch, we wonder, and we wait, hoping that they figure out what it takes to persevere and triumph. In Downhill Racer, Robert Redford plays a character driven to achieve those same heights - but without knowing himself, without knowing why he wants to win. This is the dark side of athletic competition, and the movie poses the unasked and unanswered questions behind each and every sports film that preceded it - along with many that followed.
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