With a horse veterinarian advising Jackson Silva (Clifton Collins Jr., "Traffic"), whose back has been broken three times on the job, to go see a doctor and the distraction of a young man, Gabriel Boullait (Moises Arias, "Monos"), seeming to follow him from one racetrack to the next, the forty-something’s best friend, trainer Ruth Wilkes (Molly Parker, HBO's 'Deadwood,' "Madeline's Madeline"), buys her own horse, Dido’s Lament (Above the Law). Jackson and Ruth have high hopes for a big win in “Jockey.”
Laura's Review: B
Cowriter (with his “Transpecos” partner, producer Greg Kwedar)/director Clint Bentley makes his feature directorial debut in an environment he knows well – the backside of race tracks. This moving character piece immerses us in the less glamorous side of horse racing, those pre-dawn hours of hard labor and all the sacrifices made by the men and women who ride those attention grabbing thoroughbreds.
Jockeys not only train and diet constantly, but consider getting ‘hurt’ a catastrophic, potentially career ending injury whereas broken bones are just another day on the job. But those ‘lesser’ injuries, some of which don’t even stop a jockey from racing, add up, something that is beginning to dog Jackson when we meet him. But the veteran jockey soon finds he has an admirer, a young man who’s been asking around about him. With a little bit of nudging, Gabriel tells the older man that he’s his son. While Jackson refuses to validate this claim (he’ll later go to visit old flame Ana Boullait (Colleen Hartnett), the boy’s mother), he becomes a mentor to the aspiring jockey. What he never expects is that he will become his rival.
The film is something of a platonic love triangle, the long held friendship between Jackson and Ruth absorbing the younger man only for him to come between them. Collins Jr. and Parker forge a warm on screen partnership, the type of relationship that really feels lived-in. Clifton Collins Jr. has been a solid character actor for decades, and his matter-of-fact yet soulful lead performance here has earned him an Indie Spirit nomination, a much worthier role than his blink-and-you'll-miss-him appearance in Del Toro's "Nightmare Alley." Parker gets her stand-out scene lovingly trying to get her friend to face reality, a heartbreaking moment expertly handled. Arias, who usually has a strong onscreen presence, seems to cede center stage to his elders here, his performance as the young up-and-comer good if unremarkable. Most of the film’s supporting players are non-actors, real horse folk like jockey Logan Cormier who plays Jackson’s best friend Leo.
Kwedar and Bentley made a strong choice in documentary cinematographer Adolpho Veloso, whose experience in non-fiction enabled him to get in close to the real racetrack community. He also makes great use of magic hour lighting, a natural for early morning track scenes (the movie was shot at Phoenix, Arizona’s Turf Paradise, a once popular track fallen on leaner times). The filmmakers stumble, though, with close-up racing ‘scenes’ which are clearly Collins Jr. on an Equisizer or similar mechanical device which has the back and forth movement of a running horse.
“Jockey” conveys the love for a romantic yet hardscrabble lifestyle. It’s a small movie with a warm embrace.
Robin's Review: B
Jackson (Clifton Collins Jr.) has been riding the racing circuit for decades. But, his health is failing and he sees he has one last shot at being a champion. He is distracted from his quest when a young rider, Gabriel (Moises Arias), arrives and matter-of-factly announces that he is the son of the “Jockey.”
There are many things happening as I watched “The Jockey,” particularly Clifton Collins Jr. and his fine character study of a man at the end of his long career. This study is framed in many “magic light” moments of the early morning life on the racing circuit that is visually stunning and a pleasure to watch, thanks to cinematographer Adolpho Veloso.
Complimenting Collins performance is the tiny but capable supporting cast. Moises Arias, as Gabriel, wants nothing from his “father” aside from letting him know that he is his father. There is a conflict between the older and younger jockey, initially, but, as the story plays out so does the father/son, mentor/student relationship that forms.
Molly Parker, as the track’s head trainer and Jackson’s friend, gives a nuanced performance as boss and buddy. I like the chemistry between Ruth and Jackson and there is an honest caring between them. Of course, a horse race movie, at its heart, needs horses, jockeys and racing and tyro feature director Clint Bentley gives us ample portions of each.
Having become a fan of the Sport of Kings over the years, I appreciate how director Bentley puts us into the heart of the sport and conveys the beauty of the creatures, human and horse. The makers show us the nuts and bolts of horse racing and, because of their familiarity with its players, put us at the center of the racing action.
Sony Pictures Classics opened "Jockey" in NY and LA on 12/29/21, expanding into 2022. Click here for showtimes and tickets.