Could the best sports movie of 2021 be a story about a jockey trying to win one last championship in his career? (Apologies to Space Jam: A New Legacy, which will probably earn that title.)

During this past weekend, the 2021 Sundance Film Festival debuted. As you’d expect, film critics and writers watched this year’s showcase of new movies — many looking to be purchased by distributors — virtually rather than gather in Park City, Utah. And one of the films that impressed critics is titled Jockey.

Starring Clifton Collins Jr. (Westworld) as Jackson, a veteran jockey facing the end of his career far from the spotlight of Triple Crown events, Jockey has drawn some comparisons to 2008’s The Wrestler. Both movies feature characters whose bodies and lives are broken down, striving for one last chance at success at the lower levels of their sports.

Jackson has slogged for years racing in smaller circuits and is struggling with the years of injuries that horse racing has inflicted on his body. But his longtime trainer (Molly Parker, Lost in Space) has a new horse that appears capable of winning a championship, which compels him to try and win one last race. Along the way, a young jockey (Moises Arias) claiming to be Jackson’s son enters his life, giving him a chance to possibly make amends.

Director Clint Bentley based the story (co-written with Greg Kwedar) for Jockey on his father, a professional rider. Before filming, Bentley and his crew spent months at Arizona race tracks watching jockeys and learning the horse racing game. Besides the three featured actors, most of the supporting players in the film are actual jockeys still competing in the sport.

Following its showing at Sundance on Sunday, many critics gave positive reviews for Jockey.

IndieWire’s Ryan Lattanzio praised Collins’ performance and the beautiful Arizona sunsets photographed throughout the film. For The Hollywood Reporter, Sheri Linden enjoyed how the film chronicled the working-class life of those competing for love of the sport, far from Triple Crown glory. She also made note of the score composed by Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National. According to ScreenDaily’s Tim Grierson, the acting performances lift the film above a predictable story.

Sony Pictures Classics apparently liked Jockey as well, acquiring worldwide distribution rights for the film shortly before its Sundance screening with eyes on releasing it this year. Whether or not the movie will get a theatrical release in the current COVID-affected marketplace or be immediately available on streaming has yet to be announced.

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is a writer, editor, and podcaster. You can find his work at Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He's written for Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation.