‘Jockey’ Review: A Small But Strong Film About A Small But Strong Athlete


When we talk about the world’s best athletes, we think of basketball players and gymnasts, tennis greats and baseball unicorns such as Shohei Ohtani, but you rarely, if ever hear jockeys included in the conversation – yet more a study, including one by Los Angeles exercise physiologists and physicians about a decade ago, found that jockeys might be the most impressive athletes of all, pound for pound.

In the Kentucky Derby, jockeys with a 126-pound weight limit must be able to control horses that weigh over 1,000 pounds and run at speeds over 35 mph. It’s an incredibly grueling occupation that results in myriad injuries – and creates a true brotherhood among the tough, badass and brave members of the wider jockey community.

“Jockey,” director and co-writer Clint Bentley’s sun-dappled, beautifully shot, brutal and tough drama, perfectly captures life on a roller coaster and the often difficult times of the jockey and the world of horse racing. Veteran character actor Clifton Collins Jr. (“Honeyboy,” “Traffic,” “The Last Castle”) gets a chance to wear a movie as a lead and delivers a beautifully calibrated and career-defining performance in as a talented but aging, broke-down jockey who comes to race around the bend with one last chance to ride a potentially awesome horse — and a first chance to connect with a young jockey who could be his son. It’s the sort of indie film we often saw in the early 1970s, filled with quietly effective performances, a deliberately paced and utterly natural storyline, and an authentic docudrama feel. Each frame has a lived-in, real-life feel.

Filmed at the Turf Paradise Racetrack in Phoenix, “Jockey” spends most of its time in the stables, tack rooms, mobile homes, predawn track and local bars populated by Collins’ Jackson, which is the best jockey on the track and had a long and relatively successful working relationship (and close friendship) with a veteran trainer named Ruth (the always-great Molly Parker), who bought a promising thoroughbred called Dido’s Lament with her own money and thinks it might be a once in a lifetime horse. Although Jackson has broken his back three times and is constantly struggling to maintain his weight without losing the strength to compete, Ruth says the horse is his. (What Ruth doesn’t know is that Jackson’s right hand is starting to shake and he sometimes loses feeling on his right side, and a doctor told him he needed to stop rolling. Now.)

In the meantime, Jackson has struck up a relationship with Gabriel (Moises Arias), an up-and-coming young jockey who is convinced that Jackson is his father, though Jackson isn’t sure the math adds up. Nonetheless, Jackson takes Gabriel under his wing, leading to some of the film’s most beautiful and touching sequences. Jackson is a kind but closed guy who hasn’t lived much of a life off the track, and in Gabriel he sees an opportunity to expand his world, to pass on his wisdom, to leave some kind of legacy behind. .

Director Bentley and his cinematographer Adolpho Veloso frequently linger over close-ups of the wonderfully expressive faces of Collins, Parker and Arias; the racing footage is shot almost exclusively with a close focus on Jackson’s face as he rides up and down on his mounts, and we can tell the result by the dirt kicking his face (that which obviously means that he is behind at least one horse) or the look of determination, then of pure pride and satisfaction if he finished first. “Jockey” is filled with scenes that ring true, whether it’s Jackson and Ruth getting crushed and skirting the idea of ​​romance, or a sequence in which Jackson swaps stories of injuries with a room full of colleagues (all played by real jockeys). It’s the age-old story of a world-weary man who knows he’ll be leaving at sunset as soon as possible and only hopes he can do it his way.


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