For three decades Clifton Collins Jr has been bringing a memorable spark to relatively small parts in everything from Capote to Pacific Rim. Jockey is his turn in the spotlight, giving the veteran character actor a nuanced lead role to inhabit in a slice-of-life racetrack drama.
From the outset, it’s easy to see where the film’s narrative is headed. Collins Jr is Jackson Silva, a lifelong rider who has been racing horses for decades. His line of work has left him with a litany of serious injuries and little more to his name than the RV that he calls home. His glory days are behind him and an uncertain future lies ahead.
Yet Silva is unable and unwilling to quit the only job he knows. Even when confronted with his rapidly deteriorating physical condition, an aspiring jockey who claims to be his son and the encouragement of a co-worker with his best interests at heart, he refuses to hang up the saddle or settle for a new life as a mentor.
Shot on a racetrack in Arizona with non-actors appearing alongside a small cast of professionals, Jockey brings a heightened sense of reality to the unfamiliar world of horse racing. A scene in which a group of real-world jockeys rattle off the injuries they’ve sustained is particularly harrowing, providing a stark reminder of the traumas that come with the turf.
Finally, Clifton Collins Jr gets his turn in the spotlight
While the script from writer-director Clint Bentley is disjointed at times, most of the rough edges are smoothed over by cinematographer Adolpho Veloso. A veteran of commercial and music video shoots, his camera floats through the Arizona landscape of palm trees and dusty vistas, often shooting characters in silhouette against a setting sun. It’s beautiful and melancholy, with gorgeous backdrops concealing the depressing realities of life after the last wager is placed.
Two of the most telling shots in Jockey take place during a pair of Silva’s races. In the seconds between the starting gates and the finish line, the camera is trained only on the rider’s stoical, straining face. Each race transpires at a different point in the narrative, but Collins’ subtle tics and grimaces make it clear that Silva isn’t just riding for the feeling – he’s riding for his life.
In UK cinemas Feb 4. In US theaters now.