Richly authentic, drenched in sunsets and sweat, this drama shows the beauty in following your passion, even if it's full of horse manure and pain. Entertainment often depicts horse racing as a rich person's sport, focusing on wealthy horse owners. But writer-director Clint Bentley, the son of a jockey, flips the camera to show life behind the barn. Despite their fancy silk racing gear, jockeys generally aren't paid particularly well for putting their bodies at risk, especially at a less prestigious track like Phoenix's Turf Paradise. None of the characters is complaining about the money or the bodily harm, though -- this is a sport they love, and the riders would probably do it for free. Crafting a scene in which Jackson and his rider colleagues drink coffee and compare notes, Bentley uses real jockeys to share their own experiences of broken bones and the other horrible injuries that are an expected part of doing the job. It's an eye-opening lesson about grit.
Bentley spectacularly turns low-budget lemons into lemonade. Shot mostly as the day's light softens, Jockey often shows Jackson basking in pinky sundown hues, metaphorically messaging the idea that the jockey is in the twilight of his career, a formerly bright star who's now sunsetting. Instead of staging an actual race, Bentley chooses to put the camera close on Jackson's face while he competes, ultimately providing a much more impactful and intimate perspective. And using real-life riders as actors (including first-time actor Logan Cormier, who wows as Jackson's best buddy, Leo) creates a camaraderie that would be impossible to craft as convincingly. The storytelling here requires patience and maturity: This isn't Gabriel's story, it's Jackson's. Awakening to your body's growing limitations and your dreams being extinguished may not connect with younger viewers. But for adults, there's a loveliness in seeing that when life slows to a trot, there can be joy in switching to a slower lane.