By LINDSEY BAHR, AP screenwriter
Clifton Collins Jr. had a career as a support player. While the average moviegoer might not know his name, you do know his face and his work. Collins always manages to stand out, whether it’s in a pivotal role like Perry Ellis in “Condom” or a glorified cameo in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”. He has comedy in his blood: his grandfather was actor Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez who has appeared in several John Wayne films, including “Rio Bravo”, and his great-uncle was also a Hollywood player.
It was probably inevitable that Collins would eventually find himself riding a horse in a western, not to mention the nod and you’ll miss a moment in the mock show in a Quentin Tarantino show. And he couldn’t have picked a better showcase for his own talents and heritage than “Jockey,” a calm, soulful indie about a champion racer grappling with the end of his own race.
“Jockey” is the debut film by Clint Bentley, who grew up on the racetrack alongside his jockey father. He wanted to show the jockey lifestyle as he really is, which he lacked in films about the grueling profession. It might be a bit of a moot point, and the tone and ambition is no different from Chloe Zhao’s rodeo movie “The Rider”. But Collins is there to give a full performance as Jackson Silva, a legend of his day who has suffered a few too many broken backs along the way and may need to hang up his spurs sooner than he wants.
Intensifying this already busy moment is the arrival of two complications: a 19-year-old with jockey dreams, Gabriel (Moises Arias), who claims to be Jackson’s son, and a once-in-a-lifetime champion horse that Jackson is not. will move on to a young colt for the big race. Molly Parker plays her boss, Ruth, who wants to give Jackson another chance, but can see the toll of years and riding
Bentley clearly has a love for this particular lifestyle, in which already thin men are still striving to lose a pound or two, and whose bodies are ravaged by sports. It shows the track (a real race track) and the runners beautifully, if a bit romantically. It always feels like a magical hour when cinematographer Adolpho Veloso’s cameras roll, and all of the characters are given a melancholy monologue or folk truism to gush out as the colorful sky turns into night.
Realism might have been the goal, but Bentley uses a very familiar indie film setting to tell the story that could best be summed up as Sundance-lowdown, right down to its cool score of none other than Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National. That’s not a bad thing – it’s a tried-and-true style for a reason – but it’s not exactly a movie full of surprises.
And yet the setting, predictable as it is, works because of the sincerity behind the effort and the depth of Collins’ performance. He is the heart and soul of “Jockey”, and no one who gives him a chance will soon forget his name.
“Jockey,” a Sony Pictures Classics release currently airing in New York and Los Angeles, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language”. Duration: 95 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Children under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian.
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