Every few years we get a film that tackles aging in a particularly physically demanding profession. Think The Wrestler but this time it is about jockeys. These types of films are often made by the lead performance and Clifton Collins Jr. gives a hell of a one in Jockey. While story beats may feel familiar here at times, Collins Jr. embodies an aging rider with a great deal of heart and soul, transforming an otherwise predictable film into something deeply moving.
Horse racing is almost a genre unto itself. From The Rider way back to National Velvet, cinema often loves the horse track. Collins Jr. plays an aging jockey named Jackson Silva who is trying to squeeze out a few more good years before his body has had enough. We learn early on he has broken his back three times and it has left him with nerve damage that sometimes causes seizures. Jackson attends a meeting that feels like AA but ends up being for other jockeys as they try to get over their injuries and the fear that can creep in around riding. His stable coach Ruth (Molly Parker) is unaware of how bad things are with Jackson's body. The two of them are friends and maybe more. When Ruth gets a new mare for racing, Jackson sees a way to one final victory, no matter the cost. At the same time, Gabriel (Moises Arias) is a young jockey trying to make it big. He also believes he is Jackson's son. Initially, Jackson is resistant to the idea of being a dad. He doesn't believe it. As time goes on, however, the two men bond and Jackson finds purpose in their relationship. He mentors Gabriel while still hoping to win again.
Jockey was written by Clint Bentley and Greg Kwedar. Bentley also directs and this is his debut. Shot in the glow of magic hour here in Arizona, the film looks great. The screenplay wisely knows how to focus on the human struggle over the actual racing. In fact, Jockey doesn't actually show any racing. At the center of the film is Collins Jr. who won Best Actor at Sundance last year. It is well deserved as he elevates the film into a character study over a sports film.
My gripes with the film come down to the beats of the story that often feel like too many other movies like this. The film ends with a bit of a whimper as well and doesn't quite deliver the climax you will hope for. Bentley shows plenty of promise though as all performances in the film are good. This is a solid indie film and debut feature worth seeking out, especially for fans of Clifton Collins Jr.