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jockey review
An aging jockey contends with health issues and a young man claiming to be his son.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Clint Bentley

Starring: Clifton Collins Jr., Molly Parker, Moises Arias, Logan Cormier, Colleen Hartnett, Daniel Adams

jockey poster

Jockey, the feature debut of writer/director Clint Bentley, is the latest in a line of movies to focus on battered, bruised and burnt-out sportsmen. Its predecessors include Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, Chloé Zhao's The Rider and of course, the Rocky franchise. This variation is set in the world of horse racing, a milieu that has inspired a thousand paperbacks but has rarely been given a cinematic exploration.

Clifton Collins Jr, who comes from a line of horse-riding western bit-part players, gets a rare chance to shine in a leading role. He plays Jackson Silva, a revered jockey coming to the end of his career. As is so often the case with protagonists of this nature, Jackson is told early on that the damage he's sustained to his body throughout his career means he's on his last legs and that his next race could be his last. Jackson keeps this a secret from his trainer, Ruth (Molly Parker), as he stubbornly persists with his trade.

jockey review

Jockey isn’t set in the glamorous world of European horse-racing, but rather the meat and potatoes circuit of the American SouthWest. The horses Jackson and his colleagues ride aren’t owned by princes, sheikhs or oligarchs, but by down to earth stable owners a few bad races away from bankruptcy. As such, Jackson has little to show for his career financially, and as this is the US, getting the treatment he requires would wipe him out. Besides, he's known nothing else but horse-riding, so he's reluctant to leave the saddle.

Though inspired by his own upbringing in the horse-racing world, Bentley's film can't help but feel derivative of its predecessors. We've seen this storyline of the horseman who can’t face a future in which he can't do the one thing he loves in Zhao's The Rider, and with its handheld camera and numerous shots of its protagonist silhouetted against a big American sky, it liberally borrows that movie's ruggedly beautiful aesthetic. Jockey also features a subplot in which an up-and-coming teenage jockey (Moisés Arias) claims to be Jackson's son, putting the film in territory covered by The Wrestler and extensively in the Rocky and subsequent Creed movies.

jockey review

Yet for all its familiarity, Jockey feels uniquely alive. Collins Jr has been acting for many a year, but he's usually reduced to minor "that guy" roles, which makes Jockey almost feel like we're watching his debut. He usually plays characters brought in to deliver a few lines of exposition, but here we get to see what Collins Jr can do in the moments between the lines. There's something of the Warren Oates about him, as his small frame takes up little screen space but always draws your eyes, not by his actions but his inaction, by what he's doing when he's unsure of what his next move should be, which makes for a lot of the running time of Jockey. Jackson is a man plagued by uncertainty, and as a jobbing actor, that's no doubt a feeling Collins Jr is all too familiar with.

Parker is a similarly under-rated actress, and some of the movie's best scenes revolve around the relationship between jockey and trainer, and the trickery of combining friendship with business. There's a wonderful scene in which, drunk on tequila, the two hang out in Jackson's trailer. As Jackson struggles to find what Kris Kristofferson might call his "cleanest dirty" shot glasses, we assume a romantic entanglement will follow, but refreshingly the movie is willing to portray a purely platonic relationship between Jackson and Ruth that's more romantic in its genuineness than the unconvincing couplings of most rom-coms.

jockey review

Taking another cue from Zhao, Bentley populates his supporting cast with amateur actors, most of whom are veterans of the racing world. Though this results in some rough, self-conscious acting in parts, it lends the film an authenticity. Former jockey Logan Cormier is particularly captivating as one of Jackson's friends and fellow riders, and he delivers the sort of performance that suggests the director secretly began recording him while he was off on some riff about racing and life.

Jockey's narrative is set in a brutal world where all that matters is how you cross the finish line. But in the peaceful poetry of Bentley's direction and the quiet contemplation of Collins Jr's performance, it feels like these two men have only just come out of their respective traps. Put your money on more greatness from this pair in the future.

 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2022 movie reviews