There are big deaths (you know the one I'm talking about) and smaller losses, those that challenge the way we view ourselves — debilitating illness, retirement or some other life-altering change of circumstances.
In Jockey, Clifton Collins Jr. plays a jockey facing such a moment. Along with aging, a variety of injuries have taken their toll on his body and on his psyche. He no longer rides without fear. And if he can’t ride, what’s left?
Collins's Jackson mostly plies his trade for Ruth (Molly Parker), a trainer with whom he's developed a kind of partnership. The know how to read each other.
Collins conveys the mix of will and doubt that besets Jackson as he tries to push beyond his limits. He fights to lose weight, checks his hand for trembles, and forces himself to continue his training.
Bentley cast real jockeys in some of the movie's roles, a decision that enhances the movie's sense of authenticity, a feeling for the routine of track life, alternating moments of drudgery and beauty.
When the jockeys share stories, we realize that they've all suffered injuries but none of them wants to abandon the rush that accompanies the opening the starting gate.
To round out the story, Bentley -- who co-wrote the screenplay with Greg Kwedar -- introduces an aspiring young rider (Moises Arias) who turns up claiming that he's Jackson's son from a long-forgotten dalliance.
The character also serves a thematic function, offering Jackson an opportunity to pass the torch to another generation while also sounding a cautionary note. Arias' Gabriel might be looking at Jackson as more than a possible father; he could represent the young man's future.
Jockey may put Collins into the forefront after a career of character acting but even if it doesn't, it provides him with a well-deserved showcase.
Credit Bentley for avoiding a big-race finale. Instead, he opts for a poignant look at what it means for a man to accept his fate and let go of the thing he prizes most.