Many character actors never land a leading role, despite having proven themselves in film after film (from The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit to Traffic and Capote). Clifton Collins, Jr. has been handed a golden opportunity in Jockey by director Clint Bentley and his co-screenwriter Greg Kwedar. Striving for realism but not taking a literal approach to their story, they lay the groundwork for Collins to “own” the film, playing a hard-bitten jockey whose health is deteriorating just as he encounters a horse that can carry him to greatness.
You won’t find any histrionics in Jockey, just a well-told story about a racing “pro” who has worked hard his whole life and, like his comrades, endured a never-ending series of injuries. He enjoys a friendly relationship with his trainer (another pitch-perfect performance from Molly Parker) but has his predictable world shaken up when a young man (Moises Arias) turns up at the track claiming to be his son.
There are only so many directions a story like this can go, but Bentley and Kwedar dodge clichés at every turn. A neat directorial touch enables us to read Collins’s face as he makes the two most decisive rides of his career. (Kudos to cinematographer Adolpho Veloso for these memorable showpieces.)
The film rests on the foundation of Clifton Collins’s underplayed performance. Whether he’s talking to himself en route to a difficult meeting or swapping stories with fellow jockeys, he is quietly persuasive and likable…a hardscrabble hero worth rooting for.
Honored at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and winner of the audience award at the most recent AFI Fest—with nominations for the upcoming Film Independent Spirit Awards still to be announced–Jockey is one of those sleepers that makes even a bumpy moviegoing season worthwhile. It opens in theaters in N.Y. and L.A. on December 29, with more cities (and the inevitable exposure on VOD) to follow.
To listen to Clifton Collins, Jr. on the Maltin on Movies podcast which first aired in 2018, click here: https://maltinonmovies.libsyn.com/clifton-collins-jr