AFI Film Festival AW Kautzer's Film Review Film

Jockey – AFI Film Festival 2021


The lean and economical Jockey is a singular showcase for Clifton Collins Jr. who gives a career best performance.  

Cinema at its best is a window into cultures, people, places, an era sometimes a combination of all and more.  Jockey gives us a look at the world of horse racing jockeys.  Through this gaze as seen through the eyes of a specific jockey (Collins) attempting one final hurrah.  Jockey transcends the sports genre to something more elegant and meditative.   

Director Clint Bentley along with his co-screenwriter Greg Kwedar have crafted a story that is about a singular experience but through the singularity, they have found common truths.  There is a family-friendly version of this story.  You know the one.  The grizzled vet with one last chance, training the inexperienced younger talent his ways and finding a common ground to win the big race.  We have seen that sports movie formula time and time again.  Jockey crafts an adroit tale that takes the essentials of those troupes and contorts them into a soulful character piece. 

That character piece and its success rests on the shoulders of Clifton Collins Jr.  Since his haunting turn in the Samuel L Jackson starring 187, Collins has always been memorable, at the very least, in the 125 films he’s made since.  Even fans of Collins will not be prepared for how great he truly is in Jockey.  Bentley and the script allow Collins the space to live in the role in a way that we haven’t seen before.  

Collins’ as Jackson Silva shows us a man on the cusp of change.  That cusp is where Collins finds a goldmine that allows him to be laconic in a way that is reminiscent of Steve McQueen in Junior Bonner.  Both films and actors bravely showmen whose bodies are breaking down but not broken down completely.  The messiness of that breakdown but the pride that won’t allow someone to quit unless it’s on their own terms.  That struggle that you are losing what made you good.  The fact that it’s for the most part a purely physical performance makes the artistry and craft Collins has brought to the role all the more special.   

Collins’ performance is aided greatly by the work of both Molly Parker and Moises Arias.  Parker as the horse owner that Collins’ Silva works with gives us an earthy performance that is a perfect foil to the jockey.  The work between the two in Silva’s camper is intimate in a way that is unexpectedly powerful.  Arias in the role of the younger jockey is unexpected in a way that it never feels like the cliché version of this often-written role. 

Jockey ends not with a victory or a loss but a passage of time and possibly of an era.  There is no pomp and circumstance. Only people moving forward in time, accepting what has passed and what is to come.  That movement and acceptance is some of the boldest storytelling by an actor and director in recent memory. 

Jockey plays AFI Film Festival 2021 November 14th and is being released by Sony Pictures Classic in theaters in December.

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