Jockey


A prayer in jockey’s silks.

(2021) Sports Drama (Sony Classics) Clifton Collins Jr., Logan Cormier, Vincent Francia, Molly Parker, Marlon St. Julien, Moises Arias, Danny Garcia, Ryan Barber, Martin Bourdieu, Aki Kato, Richard Lull, Scott Stevens, Carl “The Truth” Williams, Michael Ybarra, Joe Johnson, Daillon Luker, Oscar Quiroz, John Shumaker, Willie Whitehouse, Stacey Nottingham, Colleen Hartnett. Directed by Clint Bentley

 

They call horse racing the sport of kings, and there is an intense beauty to it; the overwhelming majesty of the horses, the colorful silks of their riders, the pounding hoofs kicking up clods of dirt, the intensity of competition. But not every race is the Kentucky Derby; not every jockey wins the race.

Jackson Silva (Collins) has had a storied career, but he is reaching the end of the line, and he knows it. His battered body, mauled in falls off of his mounts, has begun to manifest some disturbing symptoms, ranging from hand tremors to outright seizures. His doctor – well, the vet at the local race track in Phoenix where he plies his trade – urges him to retire, but Jackson isn’t about to do that, when there is one more championship to win, and the trainer he works with, Ruth (Parker), has just the horse that might get him that last ring.

But onto the scene comes Gabriel (Arias), a brash young man with talent by the bucket load. He also claims to be Jackson’s son. At first, he doesn’t believe it but as he watches the boy ride, he realizes that the kid could well be the legacy he wants to leave behind. He takes Gabriel under his wing as a mentor, but time is not his friend and as his condition worsens that last championship is tantalizingly close – but just out of reach. Can he urge his mount forward just a little faster to catch that brass ring?

Jockey is both a conventional sports drama and an unconventional one; it carries many of the same beats as traditional sports dramas do, and relies on some of the tropes, but it is unconventional in the way that the film is shot and in that Bentley doesn’t seem overly concerned with the outcomes of the few races he does show – most out of focus on a TV screen in a bar. The only way we can tell who won or lost the race is by Collins’ facial expression.

Speaking of Collins, his name may not be familiar but his face should be. He’s a veteran character actor who’s been in the business since the Nineties, generally playing supporting roles. This is a rare opportunity for him to play the lead, and he runs with it, turning in the performance that he will undoubtedly be remembered for. Jackson isn’t necessarily a man who wears his emotions on his sleeve, but he does wear them in his eyes and much of Collins’ acting is done there. He is sometimes mournful, sometimes joyful, often frustrated but rarely uninteresting.

Bentley and cinematographer Adolpho Veloso have a good eye, but unfortunately, they are more interested in getting unusual shots. There are tons of gorgeous panoramas at dawn and dusk, with the sun low or gone from the Arizona sky. Cinematographers call this the “golden hour” and it makes for some beautiful pictures, but they use it to distraction. They also spend a lot of time in close up on Collins’ face and that, in itself, is not a bad thing, but there is a tendency to shoot from unusual angles above and below the actors’ head, which also gets distracting. I’m not sure if the filmmakers didn’t have faith in the script that they felt they had to jazz it up with the low-light close-ups.

Which is a shame because there is a lot to like about the movie; the camaraderie among the jockeys in the tack room as they sit around the card table, shooting the breeze, lamenting about their injuries, laughing about past glories and commiserating over the state of the business. The filmmakers used a lot of actual equestrians and persons associated with the horse racing world, and that authenticity is evident throughout the film. When they get together, talking about what’s going on in their lives, those scenes are absolutely a delight, some of the best in the film.

This is probably not a film for everybody; it has a fairly languid pace, and there’s really no antagonist in the cast to root against. It’s kind of a slice of life sports drama, one in which tough people weather tough days and nights at the track on the backs of beautiful animals, and the love between horse and rider is clearly felt, and it is a real element, not something canned like many a Hollywood horse racing film. It’s worth taking a chance on. The movie made a qualifying Oscar run at the end of December, and is opening in selected markets on February 4th, expanding to a wider release the following week.

REASONS TO SEE: Collins gives a career-defining performance. There’s an authenticity to the environment.
REASONS TO AVOID: There’s an overreliance on close-ups, silhouettes and low-light dusk shots.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Bentley’s father was a jockey.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/3/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews; Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lean on Pete
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
7 Prisoners

Cry Macho


The lion in winter.

(2021) Drama (Warner Brothers) Clint Eastwood, Dwight Yoakam, Eduardo Minnett, Natalia Traven, Horacio Garcia Rojas, Fernanda Urrejola, Brytnee Ratledge, Paul Alayo, Daniel V. Graulau, Alexandra Ruddy, Ivan Hernandez, Lincoln A. Castellanos, Marco Rodriguez, Jorge-Luis Pallo, Rocko Reyes, Abiah Martinez, Ramona Thornton, Elida Munoz, Cesia Isabel Rosales, Ana Rey. Directed by Clint Eastwood

 

There’s no doubt that Clint Eastwood is a national treasure. Seventy years (!) into his career in Hollywood and ninety-one years of life aside, he has consistently made movies as an actor and a director that contribute to the cultural identity of the United States – even when he was making spaghetti westerns.

His latest feature – the 39th he’s directed and a number too high to count that he’s acted in – sees him as Mike Milo, a former rodeo star who had to retire due to a back injury. He’s been a horse trainer ever since. As the movie begins, he’s being fired by his longtime boss, Howard (Yoakam). Too much booze, too much age have both caught up with Mike. However, he isn’t unemployed long when Mike comes back, asking Mike to do something else for him – to go to Mexico and fetch his boy, whom he has not had much contact with, from his abusive mother and bring him back to Texas to live with his dad.

Seems simple enough, so Mike gets into his battered truck, pulls on his cowboy hat, turns on some twangin’ tunes and heads for the border. It’s 1980, so it’s still morning in America and the hordes of rapists and murderers haven’t started knocking on our doors quite yet. When Mike arrives in Mexico City, he discovers that the boy – Rafo (Minnett) has run away from home and his mom it turns out is a crime boss, something ol’ Howard neglected to mention (he also neglected to mention that he has ulterior motives in wanting his son back, but that will wait for a later reveal). The kid is on the mean streets making his way by his wits and by entering his pet rooster Macho in cockfights and apparently winning – there are two places in a cockfight, y’know: winner, and arroz con pollo.

The kids is intrigued by the notion of starting a new life with a father he’s never met – which makes him a damn sight better than I might be in those circumstances – so off they go, back to the U.S. of A. However, Mamacita (Urrejola) has sent some goons to get her son back. Mike and Rafo end up hiding out at the ranch of Marta (Traven) who lives in  the Mexican equivalent of BFE. There, she and Mike bond, Mike and Rafo bond and the kid comes closer to learning that toxic masculinity isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, and that 91 isn’t too late to be a chick magnet.

This isn’t Eastwood’s best work by a country mile, nor did anyone really expect it to be. The bar is generally set high for his work and he usually delivers and that’s why even his lesser works are often more worthwhile than the best work of lesser directors. Every movie he makes feels like some kind of farewell; some are saying this might be his last movie, but I’ve been hearing that back since Gran Torino (and yes, I was one of those saying it) so I’ve learned never to bet that the prolific Eastwood has hung up his director’s spurs.

Eastwood, national treasure that he is, dominates the screen even if he’s long in the tooth for this kind of role. You have to feel for young Minnett who spends the most time onscreen with him; he’s a young actor not equal to the task, which is to say that even much more experienced actors would not be equal to the task. Eastwood is a legitimate movie star from an era when that meant something, and he is going to overwhelm just about anyone he’s paired with.

This isn’t the best-written film Eastwood has ever directed, unfortunately. Many of the plot points are cliches, and feel like their in there for their own sake rather than in serving the story. That’s not to say that there aren’t some really memorable moments here; there’s a scene in which Eastwood talks about his wife and son and as he does, a tear slowly rolls down his cheek. I can’t imagine anyone not being moved by that moment and I wish the movie had more of them.

Alas, no. This is more a movie in which Eastwood acts like a sensei to a young student who is at a point in his life where he can either lead a good life or make some can’t-come-back-from-those types of mistakes. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself – older men mentoring young boys have made some great movies over the years, from Karate Kid on down. It’s just this one feels particularly flat. That’s a shame, because there’s a lot to be said on the subject of toxic masculinity.

In the end, it’s still an Eastwood movie and there’s something valuable to be gleaned from that. However, this won’t be remembered as one of his finest works. In fact, it will likely be well down his list when ranked from best to worst. That, as I said, doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile viewing.

REASONS TO SEE: Even on work that isn’t his best Eastwood remains a solid reason to see a movie.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the plot points feel a bit forced.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as adult thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This is the first Eastwood-directed film since 2010 (Hereafter) that isn’t based on or inspired by a true story.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Max (through October 17)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/7/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 59% positive reviews; Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Night in Old Mexico
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Wife of a Spy