Review by Mr. Will Wong
Our affinity for Horse Racing is no mystery, hence pardon that we have been a little too excited for the world to discover Clint Bentley‘s JOCKEY. The Film has garnered much acclaim on the festival circuit at the likes of TIFF and Sundance. Resting almost entirely on the light weight of Clifton Collins Jr.‘s commanding lead, this Drama is not to be missed.
JOCKEY veers from the norm of typical Sports Drama fare. This isn’t Seabiscuit nor is it Secretariat. Nobody’s winning the Kentucky Derby. Director/Co-Writer Bentley who actually grew-up around Horse Racing, explores the losses and sacrifices that Jackson (Collins) has endured as a tenured jockey. We meet him going about his daily routine, working closely with Owner/Trainer Ruth (Molly Parker) and he has been having a tough go of late. He’s above optimal weight in a sport in which pounds matter, he’s battling potentially career-ending back injuries and still trying to get those mounts that will put him back in fighting form. He notices an up-and-coming rider named Gabrial (Moisés Arias) who’s been following him track to track and both have reason to believe that Jackson might actually be his father. Taking Gabrial under his wings, the two form a bond but the fitter that the young jockey gets, Jackson‘s struggles become even more realized and along with Jackson, we contemplate his longevity in the sport.
JOCKEY doesn’t reach too far and there are no big plot twists or gimmicks. Rather than concerning itself with the technicalities of this high stakes sport, it is grounded in Jackson‘s coming to terms with where he is today at a crossroads in his life. Despite life having dealt him some disappointments, his true character shines through where he meets Gabrial‘s arrival with skepticism, but opens his heart to him like a father would. And this renewed vigor spills into his relationship with Ruth, sparking a moment where we think something might develop between the two longtime friends, who are are focused on developing a potential star for a big upcoming race, the Futurity. The horse might be Jackson‘s ticket back to the top.
Bentley makes some wise choices and in JOCKEY’s understatedness, we get an accurate depiction of life in the business. One poignant scene pairs Collins in a circle with some actual working jockeys who talk candidly about some of the horrific injuries they have endured. Broken noses and eye sockets, loss of taste and smell and all. Also, the pressures for Jackson to meet an ideal weight and to be fit are palpable in Jackson‘s struggles. We witness the reality of Ruth having the choice to replace Jackson as her rider at any moment despite them being as close as they are. These however, only are part of the backdrop of the story, as we join our hero on his search for himself once again, while trying to uncover the truth whether or not this young man who shows-up unexpectedly in his life, is in fact his son.
Cinematographer Adolpho Veloso takes the dim backstretch and Jock’s Room, making moments with Jackson feel intimate, taking us into his headspace. He also captures so beautifully the sunny skies and hypnotic palm tree silhouettes of Turf Paradise, helping us see why this is a way of life for many.
Collins clearly has done his research and navigates Jackson‘s world with the weight he bears, the regrets he holds and the limitations of his body. While it is a shame he didn’t land in the Best Actor category at the upcoming Academy Awards, he surely was in close contention and if he missed, it surely was by the narrowest of margins.
Though the mood is bittersweet in JOCKEY and Bentley leaves things open-ended, one thing is for certain – it leaves us plenty to think about.
Mongrel Media release JOCKEY in theatres March 4, 2022.
*Please exercise caution observing COVID-19 protocols if seeing in theatre*