2021 Sundance Review: Jockey

Acquired earlier today by Sony Pictures Classics.

Director(s): Clint Bentley

Writer(s): Clint Bentley, Greg Kwedar

Cast: Clifton Collins Jr., Moises Arias, Molly Parker

Synopsis: An aging jockey aims for a final championship, when a rookie rider arrives claiming to be his son.

Jockey might be one of the strangest films I have seen so far at Sundance. Not in the case of it being weird, but in the fact that even though practically everything works, I still found that the film itself left a lot on the table. I mean, this film was beautiful from almost every aspect. The cinematography was gorgeous, the performances were great, and the score and sound design were wonderful. I wanted to love this so much, but I ended up only being able to appreciate it rather than really becoming enthralled by it.

What worked the most was Clifton Collins Jr.’s performance. Collins Jr. has made a name for himself as a character actor in a bunch of well-known films. He has been a part of Oscar-winners like Capote, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, and Traffic, while also being a part of loved movies like Honey Boy and Star Trek. He has made a pretty good career for himself and really could have spent his life as a character actor. Instead, he decided he wanted to step into the spotlight, and with how well he pulled this off, it makes you wonder why it has taken him so long.

Clifton Collins Jr. gives a tour de force performance as an aging jockey legend that is without a doubt his best performance to date. He is able to show the pains and the grit that jockeys possess, and also the understanding that the life he is living isn’t a great life. But, he embraces it, and wouldn’t want it to be any other way. He’s lonely, and when Gabriel (Moises Arias), a person who claims to be his son, comes into his life it gives him purpose again. There is a scene where Gabriel and Jackson (Collins Jr.) are riding the practice horse, and Jackson is teaching Gabriel some of his tricks. It is here that we see Collins Jr. really take over the scene. This is his moment where instead of being the side character, he leads this scene with an elegant amount of nuance. It is a performance that truly makes me wonder why he hasn’t done something like this sooner.

Moises Arias also was phenomenal in this role. He has been really getting back into acting, and I didn’t think that he had something like this in him. He is longing for any sort of connection and has a sparkle about him that Jackson picks up. Their chemistry truly was great as I could feel their relationship grow throughout the film.

The film is told with such beauty from Clint Bently in his directorial debut. Some of the shots don’t work for me, as they seem to have a weird animated tint to them, but my gosh are some of the shots breathtaking. Before the film, they compared this movie to sunset, and I can definitely see the way they were able to capture this beautiful film. The saturation and contrasting colors worked wonders to tell a truly visual story, and I think this beauty is what almost saves the film.

But where the film loses me is in the story it is trying to tell. I couldn’t help but think the entire time that I had seen this before. Aging legend tries to reconnect with his son for one last ride? Then it finally clicked that this film reminded me, story-wise, of the final Rocky movie, Rocky Balboa. Then the more I thought about it the more the two films began to feel similar in other aspects. Each film is led by outstanding performances, and each film includes a visual aesthetic that is breathtaking to see. However, where each film falls apart is in the predictable story it is trying to tell.

Like Rocky Balboa, I couldn’t help but feel like the performances and visual aspects of the film was just a cover-up for the fairly straightforward story. I guess there was a minor twist that caught me off guard, but nothing to really differentiate this from other movies like it. For how good this film was practically everywhere, I just could not get past the formulaic way that the story was told. I feel like this wanted to be like The Wrestler though, in telling a story of a beaten-down man looking for reconnection at the end of his run, but it never became captivating enough for me to believe it was similar to that film.

Final: Jockey is a beautifully made, sounding, acted, and directed film that shows a legendary Horse Jockey on his last leg. While I did enjoy a lot of what this film brought, the story is as formulaic as a Sports Legend story can get. Wants to be The Wrestler, but ends up being Rocky Balboa. This isn’t a negative thought, just in the case of how the beautiful aesthetic and performances attempt to cover up a weak script.

Grade: B

2021 Sundance Coverage

2021 Film Rankings

Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Adolpho Veloso

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