The Jack Bull (TV Movie 1999) Poster

(1999 TV Movie)

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8/10
Better Than You Expect
oscarnestell18 August 2003
To those of us who follow any of HBO's original programming, it should come as no surprise that a film on the level of THE JACK BULL premieres on HBO. While the folks out in Hollywood are busy heaping money on so-called films such as AMERICAN OUTLAWS and TEXAS RANGERS, leave it to HBO and John Cusak to come up with the good stuff. Though the big screen fare is far glossier (and no doubt costlier), Cusak's gritty western is simply far superior. Boasting a cast including Cusak, John C. McGinley, John Goodman, and L. Q. Jones, the film out-acts its big screen competitors by a mile and a half. Combine it with a cold, smart, gritty screenplay by Cusak's dad and strong direction by John Badham and you have a film worthy of inclusion among really good Westerns.

f you want to see Ashton Kutcher, James Van Der Beek, Colin Farrell, or Usher Raymond, you'll have to rent the other two. But if you want to see something more on par with Clint Eastwood's UNFORGIVEN, well then, THE JACK BULL is calling your name!
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10/10
The Jack Bull will surprise you
robb_mavins17 August 2003
WATCH IT. A great moral translated to a western tale. I have been a fan of Cusack for some time; my first impression was that in a Western he would not be strong enough. As Myrl Redding, the strong true and moral man pushed too far, he is driven and tortured by theft and the death of his wife; and he is wonderful.

The great thing about this movie is that L.Q. Jones' Ballard is not evil just the antagonist. This movie is filled with good people trying to do what they feel is the right thing including John Goodman as Judge Toliver. <br> The best compliment I can give is that it reminds a lot of `The Crucible' by Arthur Miller, though to be honest, I am never sure who is on the side of right . Since the movie is also set against the statehood debate there are so many subplots. Both Redding & Ballard are pushed and pulled by so many other forces, I am never quite sure to whom is delivered `More Weight' as was Giles Corey in the Crucible but the result is very watchable. That's why in the final analysis I like this film, it is not about `white hats' and black hats just sadly about flawed people.
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10/10
Forget it's a western--transcends the genre.
speechmasters22 August 2002
Fifteen minutes into almost any movie I find myself saying, `Well, I don't care what happens to Any of these characters.' With this film, I found myself caring about Every character. Even the bad guys. Even the characters walking by in the background. The acting in this film is uniformly excellent. Like an ensemble theatre piece. Much has been written here about the men, but Miranda Otto as Cusack's wife is luminescent. She clearly is the light of his life, and she lights up the screen for every second of every scene she is in--who wouldn't love this woman? The actress with only one scene begging she not be burned out of her house. The actress with only one scene who comes to the aid after a carriage accident in Cheyenne. The character landscape is rich and deep. You'll recognize many venerable character actors, like the always reliable Ken Pogue as the bad judge. In the leads, John Cusack, John Goodman, and John C. McGinley invest a depth of feeling that anchors the story. L.Q. Jones and John Savage are a pair of richly textured villains. This film is a feast of fine performances, from the briefest day players to the many layered leads.
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9/10
How far would you go for what you believe in?
~AleXa~12 June 2005
This is an HBO original movie, but let me assure you this is of the caliber to have been a theatrical release.

This film makes a powerful statement about the importance of standing up for what you believe in and how you cannot just say what is right, but have the courage to take action when words fail you and see justice done, whatever the cost.

The setting is the beautiful mountains and frontier country of pre-statehood Wyoming; the man is Merle Redding (John Cusack), a simple horse trainer just trying to earn a living for him and his family; the problem is a wealthy cattle rancher named Henry Ballard (L.Q. Jones) buying up all the land between the homesteads and the nearest town. Conflict arises when Merle is taking some of his horses to town to sell at the auction and needs to pass through Ballard's new spread of land—previously unowned—as it is the only way to make it to the auction on time. And that is all I will say so as to not spoil any critical elements of the movie.

The first thing that stands out about the film is that the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. I could've done without the filters, but the sights are still something to behold. The actors are well-cast; John Cusack and John Goodman really shine in their respective roles. The screenplay (written by Dick Cusack, John Cusack's father) is well-thought out and succeeds in making the film come full circle. The characters are three-dimensional and the audience can easily relate to their individual struggles. As well, the parallel editing between Cusack's 'circumstance' and the parade for Wyoming's official statehood speaks volumes...very eloquent indeed.

This film should be a lesson to all of us to remember what's important and fight for what we believe in. We cannot settle for simply saying what is right and what should be done, but stand behind what we say. It reminds us to fight for the little guy and that one person *can* make a difference.

VERDICT: A moving film about true conviction of the heart; truly inspiring. Hands down one of the best westerns I've ever seen (which is a lot). On that note, if you don't like westerns, this probably isn't the film for you, but otherwise, it's a must-see.

8.5 out of 10.0

NOTE: To anyone who loves horses, this film will hit a particular soft spot in your heart—it certainly did for me…
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9/10
Solid film, beautiful story
Moriakul24 April 2005
Though most likely found in the Westerns section at your local rental joint, this movie does not feel like a western. It feels like a timeless story set incidentally in the "Old West." It is, in fact, derived from another telling of the same story set in another time and another place. Regardless of that fact, "The Jack Bull" stands on its own for quality and character. All performances, from the leads to the extras, are inspired. John Cusack is in top form and earns his place in the title role. The direction, cinematography and editing are unpresumptuous but essentially flawless, as if standing aside to let the story go to your heart. And the story itself is touching and transcendent, a parable of honor, duty, pride, justice, and the price paid by those who uphold them. Neither a traditional "ride off into the sunset," nor a traditional tragedy, this film rather from beginning to end rings true and thereby sets itself apart from others like it. It comes highly recommended, and will not disappoint.
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What message?
Ponticar20 August 2001
This film does a decent job of creating the feel of the late 1800s in the Wyoming territory and there are some decent performances. Having said that, I have to disagree with the posts that suggest this had some sort of redeeming message. What was it? The "bad guys" won-Cusack's character managed to get his wife killed (very predictable but the whole scenario was not even close to being consistent with the "Old West", or with Cusack's character up to that point) and to get himself hung for a crime he didn't commit, making his young son an orphan. The villain in the movie gets off with only two years in prison. How is that a good message? There were other problems as well. Cusack has a Crow Indian working for him, (eating at the same table with the family in one scene) and is not ostracized by the other people in town. Highly unlikely, given the treatment of Indians by white settlers everywhere (but very PC). There is a black man who is treated as an equal by a powerful rancher and a judge, even more unlikely in 19th century America. All in all, a film to miss.
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7/10
Justice does not come easy.
michaelRokeefe19 August 2002
I haven't been impressed with a western in along time as I have with JACK BULL. Terrific acting, great script and tremendous cinematography. The setting is 19th-century, wide open pre-statehood Wyoming. A powerful tale of a horse trader(John Cusack) seeking justice for a rival rancher(L.Q.Jones) abusing two of his horses. Before finding a judge(John Goodman)to hear his complaint, Cusack gives notice he wants restitution within seven days. This inturn causes some havoc at the same time the justice system is trying to make a good impression as the territory is awaiting statehood. You will not like the ending, but you will agree that this is a great HBO project.

Cusack really proves to be an all around actor with JACK BULL. His acting abilities seems to be improving movie by movie. What I like about this role is that he wears his hat like Elvis Presley did in CHARRO!(1969). Needless to recognize the similar beginnings of a beard. Was John impressed with Elvis or what? L.Q. Jones has always been one of my favorites even if he does play a dirty s.o.b. in this movie. Jones of course as you might remember had small parts in numerous Elvis flicks. John Goodman is tight and in control of his role as Judge Tolliver. Also in the cast are:Rodney A. Grant, John C. McGinley and John Savage.

Note:Script was written by Dick Cusack, John's father.
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7/10
Above average TV Western in which a horse trader seeks justice and takes the law on his own hands
ma-cortes4 June 2012
Good Western with satisfying and impressive directorial by John Badham and produced by the prestigious HBO . The Jack Bull narrates the tale of Myrl Redding (John Cusack , also producer) married to Cora (Miranda Otto) and with a son (Drake Bell) , he is a Wyoming horse trader who clashes with Henry Ballard, a baron land . Jack along with fellow Woody (John G. McGinley, also producer) transport a herd of horses across the country but Ballard abuses two of Myrl's horses and their Crow Indian caretaker , Billy (Rodney A Gant) . After being wrongfully denied justice, a horse trader seeks his own justice on the treacherous rancher ( L.Q. Jones) and his hoodlums (John Savage and Nick Gillie) . When Judge Wilkins (Ken Pogue) throws out Myrl's complaint , the war he wages to obligate Ballard to nurse the emaciated horses back to health but it leads into killings , a vigilante manhunt , and the possible defeat of Wyoming's bid for statehood carried out by the governor (Scott Wilson) and the General prosecutor (Jay O Sanders) .

This stirring and melancholic picture is acclaimed like one of the best Western TV of the last years with some prizes and nominations . It's an excellent Western with interesting issues , noisy action , shootouts, breathtaking scenarios ; but also melancholy , interracial friendship between Jack and the Indian Billy , unlovable camaraderie and emotionalism . Sensitive and moving Western where a cowboy must say goodbye to the life he knows and undergoes an extraordinary and dangerous travel , seeking justice and vengeance . Based on a novel by Heinrich von Kleist , whose title is "Michael Kohlhass", being well adapted by Dick Cusack, John Cusack's father . In fact , ¨Jack Bull¨ is a familiar film , starred by John Cusack , written by his father Dick Cusack and play roles sons's Dick as John , Bill Cusack and the same Dick as a Jury foreman . Great acting for all casting with magnificent main roles by John Cusack , L.Q. Jones and John G McGinley . Secondary cast is frankly excellent as Kurt Fuller , Rex Linn , Duncan Frazer , Jay O Sanders, Scott Wilson and many others . Gorgeous landscapes, reflecting wonderfully the wide open spaces , are splendidly photographed by Gale Tattersall , filmed on location in Calgary , Alberta , Canada . Emotive and sensible musical score by Lennie Niehaus , Clint Eastwood's usual .

The movie follows the wake the last Television Western starred by Sam Elliot , Tom Selleck, or Robert Duvall such as ¨Monte Walsh¨, ¨Crossfire trail¨ and ¨Broken trail¨. The motion picture was professionally directed by John Badham . He's a nice director who achieved his greatest successes in the 80s . He directed several hits such as ¨Saturday night fever¨ , ¨Short circuit¨ , ¨Blue thunder¨ , ¨Drop zone¨ , ¨War games¨ ,¨ Skateout¨, though today making TV movies such as ¨Obsessed¨ , ¨Floating away¨ and of course ¨Jack Bull¨ at his best ; furthermore , he realized television episodes as ¨ Crossing Jordan¨ ,¨ Psych¨, ¨ Las Vegas¨ , ¨The event¨, ¨ Standoff¨ , ¨ Heroes¨ . Rating : Better than average for the proficient film-making . It's a magnificent movie , and an unforgettable , unchallenged classic TV western .
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10/10
Wronged rancher seeks common law justice
david-162329 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Excellent Western and I was surprised it was made for TV. Well directed and superbly acted. John Cusack is a convincing rancher whose rights have been wronged. The movie seemed, to this English viewer, to have a solid ring of authenticity about it. It made a real change to see a legal dispute in the 'old West' result in the parties using the law and not the gun. John Goodman was an excellent Judge whose commitment to the law meant in the end he had to sentence Cusack to hang. We are left with the feeling that, despite it all, justice was served. I was particularly impressed with the art direction and the costume. The locations were also beautiful and evoked a longing for those Western wide open spaces
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8/10
Interesting and thoughtful film
oshram-32 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I'd never even heard of this film – apparently it was done for HBO a while back – but it was a John Cusack film I'd never heard about, and to me he's an interesting enough actor that I'll try something blind for his sake.

Jack Bull is set in the 1870s; Cusack plays horse rancher Myrl Redding, an honest man trying to make an honest living on his Wyoming farm. Unfortunately he crosses paths with local tycoon Henry Ballard (L.Q. Jones), who decides to give Redding a hard time and mistreats some of his prize stallions and one of his Native American workers. When Redding demands justice, of course he finds the deck stacked against him, so he takes the law into his own hands.

Jack Bull, while a compelling story, is also an examination of the concept of 'natural' law vs. civil law, and poses some questions about just how much of a right we have as men to be treated fairly no matter the circumstances. The story could have been a moralistic whitewash, but by making Myrl less than perfect the movie aims a lot higher, with satisfactory but occasionally unsettling results. It would be easy to just take the side of the little man against the big rich fella (like they did in, say, Silver City) and here it's not hard to do that. But Myrl's complexity and his occasional slips – he's no saint, though he tries hard to do no damage to the innocent – render this story in much darker, richer colors than lesser hands would have.

Cusack is excellent here, as he usually is. His uncompromising performance as Myrl dominates the picture, and Cusack displays the man's drive and determined nature without ever overdoing it or descending into melo-drama. Most of the rest of the cast is fairly strong as well (I particularly enjoyed Scrubs' John C. McGinley's turn as simple sidekick Woody), with a standout turn by John Goodman as a dedicated lawman named Judge Tolliver. The end trial, as a result, is a powerful capper to a movie that questions moral choices throughout.

Though a darker film, Jack Bull is an excellent piece, with well thought-out characters, motivation, and execution. It offers no easy answers, though it does conclude its story with finality, and in the end only reinforces that the consequences we suffer are a direct result of the actions we take. This one may be a little hard to find (I got it from Netflix), but it's certainly well worth the search.
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5/10
i can see it's a good story, but the melodramatic cliche-filled execution drops this down to The Average Street
william_blake22 July 2003
when you can see the actors participating as producers it usually means they wanted to make a movie no-one else did. after viewing this film i can conclude 'the jack bull' makes no exception to the rule. john badham is not a miracle maker, more a box-office director. this kind of a story would have needed something more, as this was obviously supposed to be a serious, credible film.

the problem is simply direction. i know i shouldn't land it all on one guy, but just look at it! the goody good boy, the amazing wife, ordinary man, justified revenge...blah blah. the air shots from the ride to cheyenne with the cheesy music and background dialogue, the endless verbal attacks on billy but not on ollie shows the pathetic situation of american 'political correctness' a.k.a. neo-racism, and it's all filled with dramatic death scenes, at some points it's just a tiresome watch.

so, every other scene is pretty much crap, but every other scene is not. regardless of the movies problems i did enjoy it, john cusack looks like a new yorker to me, but he is a good actor and he can somewhat pull it off anyway. the supporting cast is good all-around. i like the way the cities are portrayed as cold, dark and primitive places unlike in most westerns. the ending is good, although again too melodramatic. john goodman's character is useless, i didn't need to see mister righteous there to make me feel a little better. i just felt sick as i saw another cliche-bomb walking the streets of rawlins.

it's worth a watch, no, infact it's okay, if you can just ignore the things i loathed. but it's not even close to the best westerns of the 1990's. plusses for acting and camera-work.
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8/10
Pretty good Western
gordonl5626 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
THE JACK BULL 1999

This HBO western production is far better than I was expecting. It is the tale of one man's search for justice. The cast features, John Cusak, L.Q. Jones, John C. McGinley, John Goodman, Scott Wilson, John Savage, Jay O Sanders, Miranda Otto, Glen Morshower, Rodney E Grant and Ken Pogue.

Cusak is a Wyoming horse trader and breeder. He lives with his wife, Miranda Otto and son, Drake Bell on a ranch in the mountains. Cusak, takes a yearly trip into the big horse auction in town to sell off his stock. This year he runs into a spot of bother.

The biggest land owner in the area, L.Q. Jones, has taken a dislike to Cusak. He tells Cusak it will cost him a toll to cross his land to get to the auction. Jones is fencing off the land to as he says. "stop the lowlife drifters" from crossing. Cusak has not got the toll price, but agrees to leave several fine horses with Jones. He will pay on his return and collect the horses. He also leaves a hired hand, Rodney E Grant to watch over the horses.

Cusak sells off the stock at the auction and returns to Jones' place with the fee. What he finds is his two fine horses have been used as plow horses and are in sad shape. His man, Grant, has been beaten bloody and ran off by Jones' top hand, John Savage.

Cusak demands that Jones restore the horses to the state they were in when left with him. Needless to say this goes nowhere. Now everything falls to pieces for Cusak. He hires a lawyer to seek redress, but the local judge is in Jones' pocket. The wife, Otto, sets off with the other hired hand, John C McGinley to Cheyenne to see the Attorney General. Otto gets killed by a runaway wagon while crossing a street in the capital.

Cusak decides to make his own law as the "official law" is unwilling, or unable to help. He gathers a group of like-minded men and sets off after Jones. Barns are burned to make a point, but Jones has high tailed it to Cheyenne. Of course there are several deaths and the Law is called out to chase Cusak.

You will need to watch the film to get the rest of the story. Suffice it to say it will be worth your time.

The director here is big screen veteran, John Badham. His films include, Saturday NIGHT FEVER, POINT OF NO RETURN, BLUE THUNDER, STAKEOUT, THE HARD WAY, WAR GAMES and BIRD ON A WIRE.

The cinematography was handled by Gale Tattersall. His film work includes, PUSHING TIN, TANK GIRL and GHOST SHIP.

Standing in for the mountains of Wyoming, is Calgary and Banff, Alberta, Canada. This is the same area where OPEN RANGE, UNFORGIVEN and LEGENDS OF THE FALL were filmed.
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3/10
Decent Story Sloppily Directed
hopebuild11 August 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The sloppiness I blame on the director. My friend said, "...who cares it was made for HBO...". I care and if it were my name associated with the movie I would at least make sure you couldn't see the harness cable behind the head of the man being hung. You could totally see it. They could have shot it from another angle and then we couldn't have seen it. Also in the scene in court they show women and a black man on the jury. Not even. In 1890 not even a state yet Wyoming no women were sitting on the jury. Anyway this movie is fraught with ill fitting scenes, motivations, and had lots of goofs. I saw John Cusack move his arm when they took him down from the gallows. There were many goofs. I would never put my name on something this sloppily made even if it were only for TV. I feel insulted when movies are this sloppily done.
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Solid Story and Perfomances, but..?
x111b38253 April 2002
I liked the film and thought the story was solid, with strong, believable perfomances throughout, but I have to agree with another reader who questioned the black man's role at the dinner table.

Don't get me wrong, I bought the Indian as an integral part of Cusack's character's homestead, because the character lent himself to a fair and equitable role through his life. The Character "Ballard" however, was basically a rotten @#&^%! though, and in that day and age, would a black man have found reliable and somehow trusted place among other scoundrels let alone at this land "Baron's" table? Had the guy's race been white, it would have been totally believable, but at least for historical accuracy, I had to question this plausibility.

It probably might not have distracted from the film at all had I not read it here first, but I have to agree with the observation. Otherwise I liked the work.
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2/10
unbearably boring
inmidair23 May 2006
Wow, having read the good reviews on IMDb, and being a fan of Cusack, I decided to watch this movie with a few friends. I have not seen a movie this slow, boring, redundant, and dull in a long time. It's all about the script - Myrl repeats his "mission" every chance he gets, just as every other character does. It's like the writers were afraid that the viewers wouldn't understand the complicated plot (which can be summarized in one sentence), and so they have the characters reiterate it in every other scene. The characters are as two-dimensional as they come. I guess that's to be expected in a Western, but that adds to the monotony. Every time Myrl opens his mouth, it's the same old thing. Every time Ballard opens his mouth, we know what he's going to say.

Eventually we became joking among ourselves - "hey, maybe something will happen in the next scene!" But usually, nothing did. And I don't mean that I was expecting action scenes - I would have been happy with an interesting dialog, a plot twist, a historical introspection. Nothing.

I should note that the acting and cinematography were great, but that didn't help the boring script.
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3/10
Manipulative Drivel
secho19 January 2003
Warning: Spoilers
** Spoilers**

Oh but I'm angry. Based on a true story or not, there's absolutely no reason for the last twenty minutes of this movie - a melodramatic hanging of its hero (some say `antihero') that does little more than leave audience mouths agape. I, myself, felt both sickened and incredulous by the almost fetishistic manner in which the movie dealt with the hanging. First there is this whiny buildup of tension. Will he be hanged? Won't he be hanged? Then the sad and dismayed son is trotted out like some kind of token ornament to provoke sympathy from the audience. As the scene tiredly plays out, everything and I mean everything seems to point to the inherent justice in sparing the condemned man's life. We demand that someone save him. But in the end, what happens? He is of course hanged -- in an orgy, I might add, of tear-jerking music and slow motion camera work. I don't mind an unconventional ending, but give me a break at least. Don't draw the thing out. The only explanation I can see for this ending is that the writers truly did not care about the audience. Whatever point was trying to be made here about the occasional unfairness of the law, taking responsibility for your own actions, and standing up for what you believe in was lost on me. And don't tell me that every movie doesn't have to have a happy ending. Yeah, no kidding, so then don't manipulate your audience to expect one. That's just bad film making.
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1/10
Dont waste the brainspace! Definately not a "good" western
mcclurekr20 June 2001
John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, or anybody else for that matter would not have allowed the nonsense that happened in this movie. This movie was a complete waste of time. Comparing this to be on par with tombstone or ANY John Wayne movie severely discredits both of them. The "hero" in the movie is a fool who let entirely too much go on before taking action. I like John Cusack and pretty much all of his other movies just not this one. You will be disturbed by the ongoings in it and the outcome becomes predictable. You will probably disregard what I am saying until you actually watch the movie.
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5/10
Survives its clichés
AKS-621 January 2000
Warning: Spoilers
This comment contain SPOILERS.

Well, like someone has already said in a comment: "The Jack Bull" is certainly a clichéd film. But it boasts fine performances from most of the actors, and with an actor like John Cusack what could really go wrong? Well, a lot probably, :-), but it doesn't go *that* wrong in this film. The story is rather interesting, but at some times I really didn't feel the connection between the film and me that is almost needed to make a 'good movie experience'. Still, the fact that Myrl Redding does hang in the end is such an 'anti-cliché' that I was actually happy for the film (not for the characters in the film though) that it ended that way. Usually in films like this, the hero is saved in the last minute. Not so here, and despite the sad ending it was rather refreshing. So, thanks to the last anti-cliché "The Jack Bull" survives all the other clichés and it turns out to be an acceptable film with some great performances from Cusack and John Goodman. (5 or 6 out of 10.)
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A compare and contrast to Michael Kohlhaas its original source.
jmdsalser1 December 2002
There are descriptions here that may give the ending away.

Jack Bull is a movie based on a story written by Heinrich von Kleist. The story is called Michael Kohlhaas. Michael Kohlhaas is a horse trader just like Myrl Redding is in Jack Bull. Myrl Redding and Michael Kohlhaas are two alike personalities. In both stories, the horse dealers leave their horses to men who have put up a toll booth on their property. The horse dealers never having to pay for this before didn't have enough money to pay the toll and were told they needed a permit. So they each leave two blacks with the property owners. They return with the money and find the blacks abused, worn, and tattered. The horse dealers become furious and want their horses restored to their original condition. This never happens.

This is the basic beginning of both stories. At this point differences appear in the stories, although both are denied justice and take the law into their own hands. Myrl Redding and Michael Kohlhaas take up arms against the men who have caused them the injustice. The men flee from the horse dealers and hide away. Myrl Redding doesn't kill anyone but burns peoples barns, but Michael Kohlhaas has murder in his revolt. Although there are two killings involved in Reddings; one is in defense of Billy, the other is Grady's wife who is shot accidentally by Grady while he shoots at Myrl and Billy. Kohlhaas has more times to be able to forget the whole thing more than Redding does. Both started out wanting the horses returned but towards the end it is about justice. They seek justice where none is found. Both Kohlhaas and Redding lose their wives due to this event, which becomes an even greater reason to pursue justice. Myrl Redding has a little bit more righteousness in him than Kohlhaas does. Kohlhaas is a weird character, he prepares to hang men for taking advantage of this armed uprising. Kohlhaas in the end wants it to be over and flee to somewhere where a man can receive justice. Redding pursues it to the end saying he would follow Ballard to anywhere until justice was served even if it cost him his life. The decision Kohlhaas and Redding make to die is one that is hard. They will leave children behind and leave them parentless. They make the decision to die to set an example. Kohlhaas decides to die, though to spite the Elector because he has information the Elector wants. Redding dies because he says that `someone has to take responsibility for what has happened.' Myrl Redding says that, `don't let anyone step on your rights' as he says good bye to his son. Myrl does this action more for the morality and rightness and Kohlhaas does it more for just the principles. Myrl is the better of the two men because he is not as brutal Kohlhaas.
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7/10
Non-traditional Western & a strong movie
hhfarm-122 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The plot outline is hackneyed: in a Western (US) area there is a powerful rancher who abuses privilege, mistreats animals and runs roughshod over the small ranchers/farmers; from the small ranchers one man arises to fight back.

It would be tedious if that was it - really, how many times do we need to see this story? But there's much more to it: the good guys aren't all good; the bad guys are mostly bad but their motives aren't clear.

Cusack does a decent job overall. He reached his limit many movies back and can't seem to break free of his tried and true mannerisms. It's a shame as he had real potential 10 years ago. Here he is credible and willful but still relies too much on his habits to get by.

Still, an outstanding movie and well worth seeing. Depressing though.
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Not your typical western
binnielula25 February 2003
Warning: Spoilers
****SPOILERS**** I have not read the novel on which this movie is based, but it is not necessary to do so in order to enjoy the film. Although maybe "enjoy" isn't the best word, given that the film deals with assaults on horse- and humankind, assaults that are both physical and figurative. This is not a feel good movie. It is, however, a truly fine film.

The framework of the movie is familiar: Rich, greedy and cruel landowner wants to own everything in sight. Comes into conflict with Our Hero, a righteous horse trader, who loses almost everything, but triumphs in the end. Yes, he does, Virginia, but in this film that triumph comes at a terrible price, some of which even he is unaware of (the massacre of the Indians). The film depicts Wyoming, whose harsh beauty is kinder than the brutality, in the days preceeding statehood, of an essentially lawless society. The figure that should provide justice--a corrupt judge in the pocket of the movie's villain--merely makes a mockery of it.

The plot has been summarized frequently in viewers' comments so I won't do it again. The filmmakers (writer Dick Cusack, director John Badham, producer John Cusack, among others) have taken a hackneyed plot and turned it into something much better. They give us a protagonist, protrayed by the younger Cusack, who is far from perfect. In fact, one of his greatest virtues, a deep and abiding integrity, may (Note, I say MAY)also be his greatest defect, since a number of relative innocents are sacrificed for its sake. But ultimately only Myrl Redding, Cusack's character, takes responsibility for the pain and loss that have resulted from his quest, and yet he still repeats that he couldn't have done things any differently. He refuses to escape the justice dealt out to him, because, after all, it was only justice that he was after all along.

Cusack's characters are often eccentric and on the fringe; here he gives us a subtle portrayal of a man whose only eccentricity is the strength of his principles. Myrl Redding cares more about the dignity of life, whether that life is a horse's, an Indian's, his own, or even his enemy's, than he does about actually continuing to live. Although he has a profound respect for life and has no desire to throw it away, ultimately he believes that living isn't worth much if you have to sacrifice your dignity to do so. This respected member of the community, who sees the dignity of his animals and his ranch hand horrifically abused, first applies for redress through the legal system. He finds that, in his part of the Wyoming territory at least, justice is as abused an animal as his horses. Deprived of legal justice, he articulates his own law (which later in the film he tells an honest judge was the only law available to him and not one that he created) In doing so he commits acts that are arguably unjust themselves. And he understands his choices, which lead to his own death. Nevertheless he triumphs, because he has shown the community and, most importantly, his son, that principle is important, sometimes more important than life, and that sometimes it is necessary to make hard choices that have no obvious rewards at all, that may, in fact, render consequences that are cruel and ugly.

Cusack is, as always, wonderful. His performance is understated and eloquent; Myrl Redding is not John Wayne, but he is a manly man who understands the worth--and the cost--of his own integrity. L. Q. Jones, who has surely played more cowboy villains than even he can count, is also very good. And though Henry Ballard seems thoroughly despicable, the script offers a peek into some of what might have made him that way (he tells Myrl that he has a wife and two sons buried on his land). John Goodman projects honor and authority as powerfully as he does menace and lunacy (I'm thinking primarily of his roles for the Cohn Brothers here). And before she was Eowyn, Miranda Otto's Cora gave us a glimpse of how was truly luminous she can be.

My only quibbles are with a few details that I don't find convincing: Others have mentioned the unlikelihood of Ballard having a black as one of his trusted goons (and fellow poker players). I also find it highly unlikely that so many cowpokes and Indians could read and write with so little difficulty.
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A great Western
Watcher-3721 August 1999
It's not too often now that a great Western comes around, and even a rarer occurence in the theater, so now we look to the TV cable channels for them. This is the case for HBO's The Jack Bull. Headlined by John Cusack and written by his father, the movie centers on a man's quest to have the man he left in charge of two fine horses to restore them to health after he neglects them badly. His quest leads him to chase the man across Montana and leads him into conflict with not only the man he is chasing and his hired hands but the entire governmental organization of Montana, as they prepare for statehood. A fine turn by Cusack and a storyline that doesn't condescend to the viewer make The Jack Bull a great example of the modern Western.
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9/10
Again John Badham triumphs
Nimbo21 April 1999
An absorbing drama. Masterfully directed. Everything in tune. Cannot recommend this production enough. When John Goodman and John Cusack are the leads and it is a tie, who can lose.
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5/10
Looks like I'm the minority.
EmptyLeo29 April 1999
I was watching Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil a few months ago and someone said to me that they liked the movie, but John Cusack didn't fit the part, or something. I thought he was great in that movie. He's one of the hottest actors out there right now. But to me, John Cusack didn't fit in as the lead in the Jack Bull here. He just doesn't seem the vengeful type to me. Oh well, it was still an okay movie. John Goodman lifts this from a 5/10 to a 6/10 from me
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1/10
Horrrrrible!!!
tacny15 October 2005
Let me start with the good part of the film, the single, solitary good feature to this film: John Goodman. He was great. Slightly miscast, but his performance is spot on. Here's a guy who knows how to suspend disbelief.

On to the mess that is "The Jack Bull." Accountants and attorneys had major input into the development of this film. That's the only way to explain a politically correct old west Wyoming. And let us not spill too much blood and guts in a shoot 'em up semi-action pic, 'cause that's too darned expensive! Did I mention this movie is HORRIBLE? I like John Cusack. He's great. Not in this film. My wife described it best, "His lips are too girlie." He looks nothing like a Western-movie hero. He's got that soft-handed cityboy thing going on.

The plot is littered with holes you could drive trucks through three abreast. The emotion is muted, nay, suppressed.

Pass on this movie even if you have a free video rental card from your Aunt Sadie.
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