Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 23, 2022 11:32 am 
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The old warrior theme refinished with rich patina

Sheri Linden, in Hollywood Reporter, speaks of Jockey as "achieving the kind of seamless fusion of narrative and documentary that Nomadland strives for but only sporadically achieves." Enough said.

Clint Bentley and Greg Kwedar (Transpecos) are filmmaking partners. Last time Kwedar was the director. This time it's Bentley, who grew up as a jockey's son and aware of that circus-carney world of touring tracks and getting by, who takes the helm.

This low keyed film has things in common with Chloé Zhao's first feature, The Rider, including a protagonist's visit to the hospital to see someone more severely injured than him riding horses, when he himself may wind up having to stay off them to save his life. But what's different is that here the three central actors are not found people used as actors like the injured rodeo cowboy played by Brady Jandreau in The Rider but acting pros given every opportunity to do their stuff, which they do impressively. While Jockey feels like an artily shot doc for the first five minutes, it's soon clear this is very much a dramatic feature.

First among equals is Clifton Collins Jr., the veteran character actor, whose performance was greatly admired at Sundance. He is fiftyish and a bit tall and heavy for a jockey but seamlessly plays Jackson Silva, a mid-level rider in his mid-forties. In this profession that's over the hill: race riders take a body beating second to none. Jackson has broken his back three times; he is racked with pain; he goes numb on one side; he risks losing the use of his legs, and is looking at serious disability down the road. Collins plays the traditional beats of the warrior facing the last battle here with exceptional salt and soul. Much of the action is to be read in his face as shown in closeups by Brazilian dp Adolpho Veloso, who shot in very wide screen ratio. Veloso's love of the magic lights of dawn and dusk and profile shots is a little excessive - it see,s rarely midday here - but he provides a lovely perpetual twilight that's a metaphor for the life we're gazing into.

The drama here is how a horse racing pro must face a career's end just as a 19-year-old claiming to be his son arrives on the scene. Moises Arias, who is jockey-small, as the kid Gabriel Boullait and Molly Parker (of "Deadwood") as Ruth Wilkes, Jackson's longtime trainer-cohort almost-lover, also display admirable acting craft, Arias for breathtaking understatement, Parker for old-shoe warmth.

The film was shot at Surf Paradise Racetrack in Phoenix, Arizona, where the filmmakers coaxed real jockeys and grooms into playing themselves, when a race at another track didn't lure them away. Like many local tracks Surf Paradise is faded in the foreground because the betting public has to a large extent quit attending races in favor of betting on and watching them remotely; but in the background the horses and crew are still all there to be captured on film.

A jockey's "chapel" at this track is the scene of such men grousing and joking about their injuries. The film shows horses, not races. The races are conveyed twice by showing only Jackson, up close: again it's his face that tells us all we need to know.

There's also a brilliantly gifted horse, Dido's Lament, found for a song by Ruth Wilkes, and big race coming up, and a diagnosis for Jackson "that serves the same function as those scenes in all the Rocky movies where a doctor warned Rocky Balboa that if he got in the ring again he'd go deaf or blind or suffer brain damage. . ." as is pointed out by Matt Zoller Seitz in his affectionate, ruminative review on - one of a number of admiring ones of this small but distinctive movie.

Don't come to Jockey for a fully fleshed-out story or originality of theme: the critics who sought those left unsatisfied. This is a character study, and an acting feast that serves up a slice of authentic track career life. Its storyline is just a light framework for its wistful sadness. It feels seedy and downbeat, but that's the muddy, rough-hewn world we're in here; and the filmmakers put a sweet spin on things. Jackson has denied, welcomed, cursed, embraced Gabriel, painfully loses his last race but sees the kid has done well in it and that brings a final smile. And when Clifton Collins, né Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez and himself descended from riders, cracks a smile, it has ripples of meaning that may stay with you for days. Because of its greater dramatic heft, this movie takes us into the world of a man who must give up riding even better than The Rider does.

The sounds scored by Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National are filled with subtle looming dawns and dusks, like Veloso's images.

Jockey, 94 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 31, 2021, shown thereafter in a dozen other international festivals including Toronto, Zurich, Busan, the Hamptons, Brisbane and Stockholm. US theatrical release by Sony Pictures Classics in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 29, 2021. Rolling out release in early 2022 including Jan. 21 in San Francisco, Jan. 28 in the East Bay, Feb. 11 Santa Cruz Metacritic rating: 76%.


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