Greetings again from the darkness. “You gotta tell a horse when it’s time to stop running.” That line of dialogue is uttered in this racing film from writer-director Clint Bentley and co-writer Greg Kwedar, but the sentiment holds true for many others, including athletes, coaches, teachers, and politicians. For those who have spent their life pushing and driving, knowing when to stop does not come naturally. We learn this is so for jockeys, as well.
Clifton Collins Jr has long been one of our best and most intriguing character actors, and in a rare lead position, he becomes veteran jockey Jackson Silva. The man knows horses, but unfortunately, Father Time is catching up on the home stretch. Jackson is aging quickly as he fights to overcome a litany of injuries, including multiple broken backs. The timing for the end of one’s passion is never good, and it’s at this point where Jackson’s long-time trainer, Ruth (Molly Parker), introduces him to “the horse” … just in time for “the big race.” Sure, it’s all a bit convenient for a movie script, but it matters little, because filmmaker Bentley and actor Collins expertly capture the culture of racing in a naturalistic and organic way. Jackson carries himself with the quiet pride of a man who understands he’s spent his life doing what he was meant to do.
As if on cue, young aspiring jockey Gabriel Boulliet (Moises Arias) shows up and informs that Jackson is his father – the result of a long ago fling with Gabriel’s mother. Initially taken aback, Jackson and Gabriel form a strained bond through working out, training, and riding. In many movies, this story line would shift into eye-rolling melodrama, but that never occurs. Instead, filmmaker Bentley (whose dad was a jockey) maintains an organic feel by allowing a few real-life jockeys (including Scott Stevens and Logan Cormier) to exchange war stories. We hear firsthand accounts of the risks involved, and how these riders often become expendable.
Mr. Collins has westerns and horses in his acting bloodline – his grandfather shared the screen with John Wayne in RIO BRAVO (1959). It may not hurt that Collins is married to Clint Eastwood’s daughter, yet mostly he comes across as a natural fit around horses and the track. His subtle masculinity is balanced by Ruth’s ambition, and Collins shares a nice rapport with Ms. Parker, as well as with Mr. Arias. This is not the type of film where the horse racing takes center stage. In fact, we see no actual racing, and most of the riding scenes are performed in silence, rather than with the usual thundering hooves pounding the track. This is the epitome of a small movie and cinematographer Adolfo Veloso captures the intimacy of the characters. The story takes a backseat to the main characters, and we find ourselves right there in conversation with them.
Opening January 28, 2022