Reflective in nature and reflexive in action, Clint Bentley’s Jockey expands this weekend in theaters, having premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
Clifton Collins Jr (2009’s Star Trek) has the makings of a star; Jockey proves this. His rugged, good looks convey experience; his body language carries an elegance, a prominence in his stature, perfect for the character of Jackson Silva. Bentley expertly captures the longing reflectivity in the character’s eyes as Jackson Silva, a proven horsey jockey. Silva is as wound up as the horses he jockeys for Ruth Wilkes (Molly Parker). He is a wild thoroughbred.
Silva’s body, though, is catching up to his mental state; broken bones, fractured heads, comas, concussions; Silva has seen it all. However, his mind can’t reconcile its damage over the years.
Co-writers Bentley and Greg Kwedar inject ‘war stories’ between the jockeys. There’s no brinksmanship between the men, as reflected in the opening scene between Silva and Leo (Logan Cormier). Bentley and cinematographer Adolpho Veloso positioned the camera behind the men as their conversation took place, the glorious Arizona sunset off in the distance. Eventually, the camera is trained on Leo as the conversation turns more serious, the shadows of nightfall obscure Jackson. The camera doesn’t shudder; a sensitive pallor overcomes and partially obscures Jackson.
The characters offer an unexpected dimensionality as the story progresses, though Jockey has a one-dimensional feeling as if it is caught up in the circumference of the racetrack. The art of Jockey is in its camerawork and the performances. Collins Jr stands taller than the rest of the talent.
That is until Moisés Arias’ Gabriel Boullait enters the proverbial horse race seeking Jackson’s attention. Veloso’s steady movement of the camera is assured. His use of the scope aspect ratio allows conversations to feel intimate, vast, and expansive, striking a balance between Jackson’s ultimate realization that his time on the circuit is coming to an end and Gabriel’s opportunities to prove his mettle is on the rise.
Filmed at Phoenix’s Turf Paradise Racetrack, Bentley captures the rise and fall of the various jockeys, the financial, mental, and physical tolls jockeys endure. Collins Jr’s aggressive nature informs the characters’ inner struggle, yet he remains unwilling to give up his stature. He’s a proud man, and when Gabriel reveals his relationship and the reason for wanting to get into Jackson’s good graces, Jackson realizes that his pride is worth less than a legacy.
The story injects romance into his relationship with Ruth and past indiscretions with Colleen Hartnett’s Ana. Jackson’s interactions with both result in rejection affecting his ego and endurance, a further sign that it might be time for him to hang up his saddle.
Jackson’s reactions to the rejections result in a surprising 180-degree turn for the character, diffused through Veloso’s lens. Jockey is more concerned with a steady camera; events happen off-camera, slow dolly shots reflect the mood, avoiding shock to its audience with shaky camerawork used in depicting action.
We see Jackson’s arc come full circle and smile at Collins Jr’s subtle performance. There is a point where we would want to see Jackson in a more amped-up position to give the drama more active prose; a canter fuels the third act.
Jockey shares an interpersonal journey, the race to victory unassured, the wild, untamed beast finding its way in the throngs of competition. What is success but the endurance to see the race finished; it is a way of life, so too is Jockey.
Directed by Clint Bentley
Written by Clint Bentley and Greg Kwedar
Starring Clifton Collins Jr, Molly Parker, Moisés Arias, Logan Cormier, Colleen Hartnett, Daniel Adams
R, 94 minutes, Sony Pictures Classics