The spare, documentary-like feature film “Jockey” is about an aging rider coming to terms with his broken body and grappling with the right time to retire.
Complicating matters: His longtime trainer is just breaking in a sure-to-be champion horse, and he doesn’t want to miss the ride — plus, there’s an up-and-coming jockey who not only shapes up to be competition but claims to be his son.
Although director and co-writer Clint Bentley’s father was a jockey, there is — regrettably — barely any racing, nor is there much training of horses in “Jockey.” Instead, we are taken beyond the track and into the stables, run-down training rooms and insular world of thoroughbred horse racing through the eyes of Jackson (longtime character actor Clifton Collins Jr.), whose latest injury threatens to cause catastrophic damage.
“I’m not afraid of death,” Jackson says. “I’m afraid of not being able to ride again.”
Or, as one of his fellow jockeys who lands in the hospital puts it, jockeys constantly feed on the dopamine of “that one minute when you feel like the most important person in the world, because everybody’s watching you.”
Collins dominates the film, often in close-up, in a rich performance, and is ably assisted by Molly Parker, as the trainer, Ruth, and Moises Arias as his possible son, Gabriel. The two characters help flesh out Bentley’s downbeat cinéma vérité approach — some of it forced.
The film’s best scenes are when, without knowing for sure if Gabriel is his son, Jackson takes him under his wing, anyway. It’s his way of recapturing something lost as he takes stock of what little he has to show for all the years of sweat and pain.
“I feel like I missed out on something wonderful,” Jackson says of fatherhood.
Some who watch “Jockey,” which played at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, might feel the same way. For once a film should have been longer than its 94 minutes.
As much as the public face of horse racing is eschewed for the behind-the-scenes drama — some of it is no doubt budget-driven — acknowledgment of life on the track is missing. We never see Jackson go out on a training ride. At one point Jackson complains about the thankless hierarchy of the sport (“You ride the horse, Ruth rides you, and the owner rides her”), yet there is no character identified as an owner in the film. Nor do we see Ruth actually training her prized horse, or Jackson training Gabriel on a horse.
It’s as if someone made a backstage musical without any musical numbers, just the backstage part.
** 1/2 Review
Rated: R for language
Running time: 94 min
Clifton Collins Jr. wins but ‘Jockey’ stumbles from the gate appeared first on maserietv.com.