By Chris Boehk | November 29, 2009
Director: Michael Ritchie
Writer: James Salter
Starring: Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Camilla Sparv, Karl Michael Vogler, Dabney Coleman
David Chappellet (Robert Redford) is a skier from Idaho Springs, Colorado who joins the US Ski Team after one of the regular members breaks his legs. The team is already in the middle of European downhill racing competitions when this occurs, so Chappellet is thrust into an already tense situation.
Right away, Chappellet makes himself known as self-centered egomaniac who is only there to prove that he’s the greatest downhill skier that ever lived. Before the first race, he whines to coach Claire (Gene Hackman) that he’s too far back in the lineup and that he should be moved up. And he keeps whining about his position before every race, even though Claire does his best to accomodate him. He makes it known right away that he’s not in this for the team, he’s in it for himself. But that doesn’t really matter, in a way. He’s the best skier on the team. By far. No one is nearly as good as he is. They may hate him, but they know he’s the man.
The coach and his teammates (one of which is a young Dabney Coleman) aren’t the only ones to deal with this. Chappellet treats everyone in his life this way. He picks up an old girlfriend in his hometown, and after they get busy in the backseat of his old man’s Chevy – really – and she’s telling him about some important life junk, he responds by asking her if she’s got any gum.
There are some brief scenes where Chappellet visits with his father and their cold relationship offers a slight glimpse at why he is like this. His father doesn’t seem to understand what Chappellet does for a living nor does he seem concerned about learning more about it. The absence of a mother gives the feeling that she might have been the one that spoiled her baby boy, but that’s just a guess.
This is the first film directed by Michael Ritchie, who would go on to direct classics such as The Bad News Bears and Fletch. This film was apparently just released to DVD as part of the Criterion Collection series, which I didn’t know at the time.
Overall, this movie was O.K. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible. The best thing about it is the actual skiing. It’s tense and action-packed. Lots of great scenes where the viewer is put in the skiers’ skis…or boots…whatever. Very cool stuff. And it’s fun to see all of these actors so young. Dabney’s only got a few lines but a nice full thick head of hair! The problem is that it never really goes anywhere. You’re dropped into the middle of the story and you’re watching and watching and then it just ends. There’s no resolution and no real understanding of the characters. It’s just over. Very flat. And don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind a movie that doesn’t dig deeply into character development and would prefer to focus on the action. But the problem here is that this movie can’t decide which it wants to do and therefore both suffer.