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:

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024