' ' Cinema Romantico: Jockey

Monday, July 25, 2022


“Jockey” opens with the eponymous, middle-aged Jackson Silva (Clifton Collins Jr.) standing around an Arizona race track at...what? Dusk, maybe? The sun hangs low in the sky, casting Jackson, slung over the racing rail with a fellow rider, in silhouette. It could very well be dusk, considering there are other horses out on the track. But then, horse riders and trainers frequently practice early in the morning too, meaning it could just as easily be dawn. It’s a mystery that director Clint Bentley is content to let quietly underline not just the opening scene but the whole movie, encompassing Jackson straight away. If he’s middle-aged and, as such, aging out of the riding game, Jackson’s friend and equine trainer Ruth (Molly Parker) offering him the mount of a thoroughbred possessing a special kind of speed suggests the start of something new. Whether the sun is going down on Jackson and or coming up again, that’s to be determined. 

True, that’s not exactly an original idea for the sports genre, “The Wrestler” for the horse track, or some such. And “Jockey” only augments such narrative predictability through a youthful, up and coming jockey named Gabriel (Moises Arias), who claims to be Jackson’s son, meaning he is not only threatening to usurp the old pro on horseback but asking for a relationship with the father he never knew. Bentley’s movie, though, which premiered at Sundance and was distributed by the arthouse arm of Sony pulls the trick that many prestige-ish indies do. It not only follows these beats, of One Last Shot at Victory and an Unknown Son, right up until the point it quietly and deliberately runs them both into a metaphorical wall, but paints within this obvious outline via little directorial flourishes and actorly gestures to get at something true nonetheless.

Bentley does not just confine himself to the outline either, but occasionally wanders outside of it, like a sequence of jockeys gathered together in some kind of therapy session, all of them recounting their various bruises and tribulations. Bentley plants no narrative seeds here, establishes no riddles of plot to solve, as content to sit back and listen to these people try to talk through their pain as Jackson is. It also evokes the jockey community, as do scenes of Jackson watching his fellow riders compete on the TV in the locker room. His reaction is just as important as the result on the screen. It’s illustrative of the intimate approach Bentley prefers for racing. If the notable lack of horses in this horse riding movie can sometimes mean we never quite see how Jackson’s spoken deep knowledge of thoroughbreds blossoming on screen, the way Bentley keeps his camera locked on Jackson during racing scenes rather than reverting to master shots of the whole race spread out before us evinces that the ride itself means as much as the race.

The speed of the racing scenes is contrasted against the more measured nature of Collins Jr.’s performance. That measured tone comes out in his speaking voice, suggesting someone who knows a lot but is not necessarily letting it all out, and in the physical nature of his performance too. We don’t even need the harshly honest scenes with his doctor and or the scene of him collapsing in his mobile home to gauge the broken down nature of his body; it’s all there in the gait of Collins Jr., the way he holds himself on screen, slumped, invariably. Still, that doesn’t mean “Jockey” is miserablism. Collins Jr. lets joy seep through the rugged cracks of that face and the movie does too, especially in that recurring magic hour sunlight. Jackson’s mobile home might be cramped, but when he sets up just outside in a lawn chair under the evening sky, the beauty of the world feels infinite and something to which he still has access, though whether that’s enough is never quite clear. It would be so much less interesting, of course, it was. 

“Jockey” concludes with a race...but then pushes past that moment, the camera tracking with Jackson as he dismounts and exits the track, walking away, the face of Collins Jr. dancing between sensations of bittersweet and satisfied, walking into the unknown. 


MrJeffery said...

Nicely written review.

Nick Prigge said...

Hey, thanks so much for this comment. Really feel like I'm struggling to form my thoughts these days, not sure if I'm ever getting things across in a satisfying way. This helps.