Sundance Review: “Jockey”

Year: 2021
Runtime: 94 minutes
Director: Clint Bentley
Writer: Clint Bentley, Greg Kwedar
Stars: Clifton Collins Jr., Moises Arias, Molly Parker

By Morgan Roberts

The world of horse racing is explored in Clint Bentley‘s “Jockey” (2021). Jackson (Clifton Collins Jr.) is an aging jockey, eager to experience one last glorious lap before his ailing body finally gives in to the years of injury and chronic pain. Jackson works with his trainer (and boss) Ruth (Molly Parker) as he comes to terms with the end of his career. Meanwhile, he works with Gabriel (Moises Arias) who is an up-and-coming jockey and also claims to be Jackson’s son. Despite some confusion of the timeline, Jackson still embraces Gabriel and helps him in his training.

Going into the film, the only thing I knew about jockeys came from a “Pushing Daisies” episode. So, it was interesting to see horse racing and the sportsmanship that goes into it displayed onscreen. The film, while about horse racing, is focused much more on the people who undertake the grueling sport. The physical toll it takes on one’s body over years of racing. Some of the actors in the film were actual people who have competed in horse racing.

Clifton Collins Jr. appears in Jockey by Clint Bently, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Adolpho Veloso. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

The actors who anchor the film are sublime in their roles. Arias, known for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) and “The King of Staten Island” (2020), shines as Gabriel. A young man wanting to make a name for himself while honoring his father, someone who has raced for most of his life. The way that he and Collins build a father and son relationship, so seamlessly, you instantly understand their mutual admiration and affection for one another. It is refreshing to see a relationship between two men with actual care and love present. Sure, it isn’t perfect, no relationship is, but it is earnest and heartfelt.

Parker is the secret heroine of this film. Much like she was in “Pieces of a Woman” (2020), Parker brings a quiet empathy to her character and the film. Ruth is often a voice of reason. While she brings devotion to her relationships with her trainees, she also looks at everything pragmatically. It is a business after all. In spite of that, Ruth never loses sight of the humans in her business.

Getting to showcase his talents is Collins. You understand his motivations and his desire for one last race, one last go at the thing that has kept him going for so long. You see a man grieving a bit, at the loss of this major part of his identity, but you see it being done in a grown up way. He seeks support, at times he is a little too optimistic but he aims to ground himself before his world drastically changes. Collins is simply stunning in this film and the final shot of his character is gorgeous, not just due to the beautiful cinematography of Adolpho Veloso but due to all Collins is able to convey without a single word.

The pacing of “Jockey” can be slow at times, but the pay off at the end makes this film a worthwhile watch. Collins took home the jury prize for acting at Sundance for this role and it is a well-deserved honor.

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