“It ain’t the same anymore, Leo.” Those words are heard out of the mouth of Jackson Silva (Clifton Collins Jr.). What is “it?” Horse racing, where Jackson has been wildly successful as a Jockey. His successes haven’t come cheap; the physical toll of maintaining/cutting weight and continuously being battered and bruised have caught up to him. He and his longtime trainer, Ruth (Molly Parker) both believe he has one more championship run in him.
Will his body allow it? Remains to be seen. How about his disposition? That gets thrown out of equilibrium when a rising young adult named Gabriel (Moisés Arias) appears out of the background to announce he is Jackson’s son. A lot to take in during the twilight of one’s career.
It is always a feel-good story when that talented thespian who has typically thrived in ensemble casts as a supporting character really for the first time gets to flex their lead chops in a vehicle. In Jockey, that thespian is Collins, long a chameleon in most features who is asked to carry the one here. The only (sort of) surprise after viewing Jockey is why it took so long for him to get the chance.
Making his full-length directorial debut with Jockey is Clint Bentley, who also serves as a co-writer with Greg Kwedar. Despite the assumed structure and style one might think of when reading the premise (the average boxing/sports movie comes to mind) Bentley is not too interested in telling that rise/fall/rise again narrative. He chooses to start in media res, immediately establishing with direction and dialogue the type of semi-mythic figure Jackson is in the world of horse racing.
There’s a sort of spiritual and mystic quality with the way Bentley chooses to shoot certain moments on the practice track and even basic conversations. Yet the scene that may stick out for most is one that sees the director lean on his documentary history when he highlights real-life jockeys who discuss the never-healing bumps and bruises of their chosen profession. It is a sobering reminder—or introduction—of the inherent dangers present in the sport.
As alluded to, Jockey does have a few elements of other sports films. However, it benefits from novelty; horse racing being the backdrop is not featured often. The story from an A-to-B mindset is not the focus, Jackson the man is and his acceptance of an impending finality and where he can find contentment in post-horse racing is the focus of the film. Jockey is very personal to Bentley, whose father was the titular subject, and the character dialogue feels like it was lifted from actual encounters Bentley himself had witnessed, overheard, or received from his old man.
If Bentley was tailor made to direct a movie such as Jockey, Collins was tailor made to star in it. Always one to absorb himself into a role, the longtime “that guy” went into isolation mode and deep character methodology spending time around actual equestrians to fully get himself into the role of an aging jockey trying to hold on for one more successful ride into the sunset. He too has a connection to the sport, as he was taken to races by his father growing up and being the grandson of prominent Western actor Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez. His performance showcases an array of range in fear, defiance, machismo, and vulnerability. Parker and Arias’ characters provide steady support, but they’re vehicles to spur Jackson to his full-circle evolution.
Released during Sundance 2021, Jockey’s full(ish) release a year later comes at a time where all attention is on the recently completed Sundance fare, and no matter how phenomenal Collins and Bentley are here, the timing will do it no favors. Unfortunate timing aside, for a movie with such a small budget (no scenes featuring an actual race could be filmed), Collins and Bentley bring a deep and sizable reverence to the story at hand.
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