Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 3, 2022)
Among the sports movie genre, we get occasional looks at horse racing, but given the fact the lead competitors can’t talk, they come with restrictions. 2021’s Jockey follows the obvious path to focus on the human who guides the equine athletes.
For years, Jackson Silva (Clifton Collins Jr.) plied his trade as a jockey. This leaves him broken down physically due to the stresses of that gig.
When trainer Ruth Wilkes (Molly Parker) works with a promising young horse, Jackson strives to get a shot at one last victory. As a complication, young jockey Gabriel Boullait (Moisés Arias) arrives on the scene and claims to be Jackson’s son, a factor that adds a distraction to Silva’s quest.
Now in his 50s, Collins started in Hollywood more than 30 years ago and he enjoys over 100 projects to his credit. What he doesn’t usually get: top billing.
Collins offers the definition of a character actor, a stable pro who almost always adds to the productions in which he appears. He’s the kind of guy viewers recognize from all those movies/TV shows but don’t know by name.
Given its existence as a low-budget indie flick that received almost no theatrical exhibition, Jockey seems unlikely to change Collins’ status. Nonetheless, I feel happy that the film gives him a rare shot at a lead, and Collins makes the most of the opportunity.
Whatever flaws I find in Jockey, none of them result from Collins’ lead performance. He gives Jackson a good sense of believability and nuance.
Collins does so in the face of a less than well-drawn role. Despite a script that creates a somewhat flat part, Collins manages to find heart and depth as Jackson.
As a story, Jockey can feel unsure of where it wants to go. Though basically the tale of an aging athlete near the end of his career, the film flits with other areas a lot of the time.
This means that although we feel like we should concentrate on Jackson, we deal with different domains too much of the time. Of course, the extension to Jackson’s relationship with Gabriel makes sense, but the movie veers into tangents about other jockeys as well, and the filmmakers can’t resist the urge to nudge toward the cliché material about The Big Race.
All of these domains mean that Jockey can feel scattered and unfocused. The film takes on something of a documentary style approach, and it doesn’t work very well, as the end result jumps around too much.
This doesn’t feel like an especially creative story, so in the face of some clichés, Jockey needs greater than usual depth to characters and narrative. Because it can’t find these, it never lives up to its potential.
None of this makes Jockey a bad film, and as noted, Collins’ strong lead turn means that we remain involved from start to finish. Nonetheless, the movie disappoints because it doesn’t deliver the clarity it needs to really prosper.