Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: Jockey

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

Every time you get on a horse, you roll the dice. If it’s a good day, then you listen to each other, you forgive mistakes, you work in tandem; if it’s a bad day, well, you might find yourself with rattled nerves and a few bruises, or in an ambulance, or in a grave. For aging jockey Jackson (Clifton Collins Jr.) in Clint Bentley’s film Jockey, he’s had enough bad days for a lifetime, but while he knows his days are numbered, he refuses to face the fact. He lives in a trailer, he drinks, he smokes, his back has been broken more than once, and his right side occasionally goes numb, but still Jackson gets up before dawn to exercise trainer Ruth’s (Molly Parker) horses, riding and racing until the sun sets and then doing it all again. 

Everything in Jackson’s life has a certain familiarity to it: he’s respected around the Arizona race track he calls home, he has a close relationship with Ruth, his friendship with his fellow jockeys—many of whom are played by real jockeys, in the same vein as Chloé Zhao’s The Rider—is steady and strong. He’s able to ignore his aches and pains and inevitable retirement until a jockey named Gabriel (Moises Arias) shows up, claiming to be Jackson’s son.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

For being a “horse movie,” there’s remarkably little fanfare about the animals or sport. There’s a slight focus on a new filly Ruth has bought, one which spurs Jackson to get back into top shape and lose extra weight so he can sit light atop the horse. The races are either shown on a grainy TV in the jockey’s locker room or focus only on Jackson’s face, with Collins’ performance (and the amount of dirt hitting his face) letting us know the results. Bentley, the son of a jockey, focuses instead on the riders, avoiding the pageantry and fanfare often associated with racing movies and opting instead for a quieter, more introspective take on the jockeys. 

Though initially hostile to Gabriel, Jackson begins to warm up to him, taking him under his wing and getting him a position with Ruth. There are no big revelatory or overly emotional moments between the potential father/son duo, though their relationship—tentative and halting—remains affecting nonetheless. This forms the emotional cornerstone of the film rather than Jackson’s relationship with the filly or his desires to win a certain race, and so while Jockey is a “horse movie,” it’s a character study for Jackson, and Collins provides ample material to parse with his stunning performance. Though Arias and Parker put in great performances, Collins wins this particular race by several lengths. Jackson’s not unlike the animals he rides: you have to tell a horse when to stop, as Ruth says, or else they’ll just keep running until they give out, and Jackson keeps pushing himself closer and closer to the edge.

It’s nothing particularly groundbreaking—an aging athlete grapples with his physical decline—but it deals with a corner of the world that typically gets the glossy Hollywood treatment, something that Jockey staunchly refuses to do. It treats the athletes and the sport with care, but never glamorizes their situation; they exist on the fringes of the American West, carving out their own existence in the lonely beauty of predawn Arizona racetracks, shot with care by cinematographer Adolpho Veloso. The narrative might be too thin at times, but the mood is rich, and Collins’ performance, all the more powerful for its understatement, makes Jockey a decent bet.

Jockey was screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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Pieces of a Woman

Written by Taylor Baker

48/100

Kornél Mundruczô’s Pieces of a Woman starts out with one of the most beautiful (to look) at sequences of film in the last year. But between issues with lighting continuity, general continuity, off center cinematography, and a story that is both too broad and too narrow. There are unfortunately a large amount of areas where the film stumbles. Which is exacerbated by the early heights of its first quarter. The central recurring problem for me is the entirely useless recurring day and month title cards throughout the film. Those specific dates offer nothing important or engaging to the viewer. A month card while unnecessary would have been just as effective without any confusion of tracking dates for significance.

There are strong performances from most the actors involved. Benjamin Loeb’s handheld cinematography is sharp while the camera is moving, and Gemma Hoff and Joan Parris do a great job with make-up. Whoever was responsible for the prosthetic stomach in those first 30 minutes also deserves an abundance of credit. We see a brief a return for Jimmie Fails to feature film for the first time since The Last Black Man in San Francisco which brought immense delight to this writer.

Ultimately the film loses its through line and suffers by removing the perpetually problematic uber talent that is Shia LaBeouf from it’s ending. Whether it was a post-hoc or narrative decision its clear from this end of the film that the decision was a poor one. It is his flawed character Sean that brings out the well of emotion for Kirby’s Martha. Allowing her squints and ringed fingers dancing with chipped polish to elicit emotionality where otherwise none might be. All these issues are punctuated by an entirely absurd 7 minutes of credits, that once again provide more continuity questions than answers due to the size of the apple trees.

Pieces of a Woman Trailer

Pieces of a Woman is available to stream on Netflix