Sundance Diary, Day 4: ‘Jockey’ offers a touching story of dreams deferred

But a middle-age rider might get his long-awaited big chance


Texas-based filmmaking team took its latest movie, “Jockey,” to Sundance on Sunday, and it looks like they have a winner.

Many movies at Sundance and other festivals are looking for a distributor — a company that will pay them money to recoup their expenses in making the movie and possibly turning a profit.

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That’s what happened for Dallas-based director Clint Bentley and Austin-based filmmaking partner Greg Kwedar, who co-wrote the script. Sony Pictures Classics announced it has acquired U.S. and worldwide distribution rights for the story of an aging jockey trying to make one big last ride despite health problems.

Bentley, the son of a jockey, and Kwedar teamed up for 2016’s acclaimed “Transpecos,” with Kwedar in the director’s seat. It won the audience award for narrative features at South by Southwest. And one of the stars of “Transpecos,” Clifton Collins Jr., plays the title jockey, Jackson in the new film.

Actually, Collins steals the show in “Jockey.” His performance is outstanding, full of wizened working-class lamentations but with a determination to hold out for the possibility of finally winning a big race with a stellar horse.

Collins’ Jackson has been an itinerant, moving from track to track, along with the racing seasons. He typically follows a trainer named Ruth (the wonderful Molly Parker), who has recently made a bold move: She has acquired her own horse to race rather than just training horses for other owners. And this time, she has what she believes will be a natural on the track. And it’s only natural that she would want Jackson to ride the filly.

But nature has taken its toll on Jackson’s body. He has broken his back three times, and one of his hands starts twitching.

All of this becomes even more complicated when Jackson approaches a much-younger jockey at a diner and points out that the younger guy appears to be following him on the circuit. And Jackson wants to know why. The younger jockey, Gabriel (Moises Arias) just looks up from his plate and says that Jackson is his dad.

The way Jackson responds is wonderful. There’s a quick “no way” but also a more firm denial when he hears Gabriel’s last name — which is connected with a woman he knew from long ago.

Still, Jackson takes a liking to the kid and decides he will pass on what wisdom he can. So they become friends.

Most of these events, which were filmed at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, take place behind the scenes — in the stalls, the showers, the workout rooms. The backside of the track is far from glamorous, and you can see the world-weariness of many men who have suffered multiple injuries over the years.

Most of the scenes with the horses are filmed around dawn, long before the crowds show up. And the cinematography by Adolpho Veloso adds to a beautifully laconic atmosphere.

Sony Pictures Classics will probably announce a release date for “Jockey” later this year.

Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy is a former movies editor for The Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesman.

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