Before she carried off an Oscar and joined the Marvel stable with Eternals, director Chloe Zhao made low budget indie The Rider, the story of an injured rodeo rider facing the prospect of no longer doing what he loves. Clint Bentley’s The Jockey may not tread exactly the same ground, but there’s more than enough in his story of an aging jockey to make his film a partner piece for Zhao’s.
Jackson Silva (Clifton Collins Jnr) is in his forties. He’s still getting the rides, has a good working relationship with trainer Ruth (Molly Parker) but keeping his weight down is getting harder and years in the saddle are starting to take their toll. He’s reluctantly having to consider his future and the arrival of young rider, Gabriel (Moises Arias), complicates matters further as he may just turn out to be Jackson’s son from a past relationship.
It’s a narrative with little to make it stand out from the ordinary, but Bentley more than compensates with a vividly authentic creation of the horse racing business – the characters, the horses, the dirt spattered across the jockeys’ faces, the off-duty moments. His own dad was a jockey so they’re rooted in his childhood, but he doesn’t stop there. The film was shot at a real racing track and adding non-acting riders to the mix doesn’t just underline the truth of what we’re watching, it also emphasises the love they all have for what they do and the way of life they’ve chosen. The scene where they sit around discussing their various injuries is a true highlight, summing up the story in a few, well-chosen moments.
That sequence also demonstrates something important about Collins’ performance. Hitherto a character actor and often in the wings, it’s a role that gives him the chance to emerge into the spotlight and he grasps it not so much with both hands as his whole being. With his weathered face and slightly stooped posture, he fits in totally with all the other riders and it’s easy to forget that he’s the one actor in the scene. It won him the Special Jury Prize for acting at last year’s Sundance, as well as a nod at the Spirit Awards and he more than earned them. As his trainer, Parker acquits herself well as a shrewd professional who comes close to blurring the line between business and something more personal.
Although the sub-plot involving Gabriel feels out of kilter and less substantial, Jockey is still a compelling portrait of a way of life, one that takes its toll but is still exerts a powerful hold over those that choose it. Faced with a future he’s desperately trying to ignore, Jackson cuts a solitary silhouette as the glowing Texan sunsets mark changes in his life that he’s powerless to change.
Drama | Cert: 15 | UK Cinemas, 4 February 2022 | Sony Pictures | Dir. Clint Bentley | Clifton Collins Jnr, Molly Parker, Moises Arias.