SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! The beauty of Clint Bentley’s equine drama Jockey resides in the world that it captures to glean universal truths. The film opens at dawn at a race track in Phoenix, Arizona. Jackson (Clifton Collins Jr.) starts his day as the sun comes up, leaning against the rails of a track and talking shop with a fellow jockey before the business of the day begins. It’s a beautiful moment that captures the world these characters live in hours before the main thrust of the story unfolds. It seems there is a kid named Gabriel (Moises Arias), new to the stables, who might be a great fit as a jockey. Little does Jackson know that Gabriel holds a secret.
The script, by Bentley and co-writer Greg Kwedar, lightly telegraphs plot points throughout, which eases us into the next major turn. We follow Jackson and his relationship with Ruth (Molly Parker), who runs the stables for the horses that Jackson races. We observe their relationship as it is; loving, combative, ultimately business-driven. We watch as Jackson attends a support group for injured jockeys, the severity of their injuries a sort of measure of dedication. To what end, though? Jackson runs into Gabriel at the local diner and presses him as to why he is there. Gabriel claims to be Jackson’s son. It’s a funny, even heart-rending moment where neither knows what to do.
Quiet and steady, Jockey pushes through the seemingly unnavigable roadblocks. Jackson begrudgingly takes Gabriel on as a sort of protégé while business partner Ruth finds a beautiful new horse with racing potential. Along the way, we pick up the signs that it might be time for Jackson to retire. Again, the plot seems to run in tandem with the quiet moments that are captured, ultimately pinging a deeper truth. Who are we when we give up our legacy?
“Jackson begrudgingly takes Gabriel on as a sort of protégé…”
Clint Bentley’s choice to give the film a documentary feel at times adds tremendously to the way we view the story. Jockey is a quiet, methodical film that wants us to look beyond the actions of the characters and into who they are and what they are going through as people. Adolpho Veloso’s nimble cinematography jumps from cinematic to documentary depending on the scene, offering a signal on whether to engage with what is happening or reflect on what the characters are doing.
Do we get ultimate closure? Not really. This is a film that reflects on truths more than it tells them. Collins Jr.’s acting indelibly anchors a film that could have been dismissed with a lesser performance. His chemistry with Parker’s Ruth is endearing and somber. We can’t forget to mention Arias and his unsteady (in a good way) performance as Gabriel. Each of the leads reaches the winner’s circle, creating an ensemble that blends seamlessly with the world they portray.
Jockey is a solid piece of work that reflects on who we are and what we leave behind, as well as the prices we pay to get there.
Jockey screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
"…Collins Jr.'s acting indelibly anchors [the] film..."