1999 Drama, rated R (US), runs 1 hour, 56 minutes
Written by Dick Cusack (inspired by "Michael Hohlhaas" by Heinrich von Kleist)
Directed by John Badham
Published by HBO Pictures
John Cusack........Myrl Redding
L. Q. Jones........Henry Ballard
John Goodman.......Judge Tolliver
John C. McGinley...Woody
Ken Pogue..........Judge Wilkins
The DVD contains a conversation with Dick and John Cusack. The feature has
no subtitles or non-English dialog available.
C-Dawg says: two paws up. Definitely on my top 20 list.
There is right, and there is wrong. There is legal, and there is
In these days of government swaddling us
in almost all aspects of our lives from cradle
to grave, many people seem unable to realize that
these concepts do not always coincide. We also tend
to assume that the people to whom we entrust the
power of enforcing the law and assuring that justice
is done are themselves on the side of the righteous
and have that as their only goal in the exercise
of that power.
But what is a man to do when he finds that
the long arm of the law has no interest in defending him,
or even is itself the very agent that is treading on him?
Some people, regrettably fewer these days than in the past,
believe that their rights to their life, property, etc.,
come not from their rulers but from God or otherwise
inhere in all human beings,
and that when government breaches its
contract to protect them, that it is up to them to do so.
The Jack Bull is the story of a man who wouldn't
back down when his rights were violated by the rich
Level 1 Spoilers
The story opens introducing Cusack as Myrl Redding, who
is in the business of raising and selling horses, along with
his young son Cage and his two close friends and employees,
Woody and a Crow Indian named Billy.
As Myrl stops in for a
drink in a saloon during a trip into town, we learn that
politics is the order of the day, as people are discussing
whether the Wyoming territory should join the Union. We
see that everyone respects Redding as a man of great integrity.
All eyes turn as Henry Ballard enters. Ballard is the richest
man in those parts, and not well liked. He's been around
longer than anyone, founded the town of Rawlins, and has been
buying up land all around, sometimes forcing ranchers to sell
by denying them access to water from his properties. He's
definitely in favor of the status quo, and loudly reiterates
his position that there's no need for more government sticking
its nose into their business. His suggestion that none of the
others need to sign the petition that's circulating is not
without an undertone of threat. Mryl then signs the petition,
stating that he'd been ambivalent on the question but didn't
want to be on Ballard's side. Ballard contemptuously throws
the paper into the watering trough in the street. Thus is the
stage set for the conflict to begin.
Ballard pushes first. Redding and his men are taking a bunch
of horses to auction at Casper and find that
Ballard has bought the land giving access to the mountain pass
— and he wants Redding to pay a toll to cross. Myrl doesn't
have enough money to spare and offers to pay on the way back.
Ballard, thoroughly enjoying himself, offers to hold the two
magnificent black stallions as security. The prize horses had
already been promised to a buyer in Casper for a very handsome
price. It pains Myrl to break his commitment, but he has no choice
and agrees. Billy will stay with them while the rest continue on
with their diminished offering.
You ever hear tell of one of them English dogs, the
Jack Russell terrier dogs?
They say if'n ya get 'em
riled up enough, and they sink their teeth into ya,
well now you're just gonna have to saw their jaws apart
before they let go. That right there is Myrl Redding right about now.
-- Woody to the auctioneer who asked about the stallions
On the return trip, they stop to pay the toll and reclaim the
horses. Billy is nowhere about, and when the horses are finally
found, Woody and Myrl are horrified. They'd clearly been harnessed
and whipped and generally abused. Myrl's cries of anguish
brought Ballard, who claimed that Billy had abandoned them and
they weren't his responsibility. Myrl knows he's lying, and gives
him two weeks to restore them to health. As Myrl and his men ride
off, Ballard calls out that even if he gives him two years, he won't
Back at the Redding spread, we see that Billy is laid up with
some serious injuries, and he tells Myrl apologetically that
he'd been forced off of Ballard's land. Naturally in this movie,
all the good guys are englightened, while
the bad guys are violent racists who won't have
no truck with an Injun living among them.
With these two injustices in hand, Myrl makes a public demand
that Ballard restore his horses, and pay Billy reparations.
Unsurprisingly, Ballard fails to comply. (If he did, the movie
would be over.) Myrl turns to the legal system, filing a civil
suit making the same demands. He's playing by the rules, but
in a loud statement to the keeper of the general store, with
a couple of Ballard's men present, he says
The law will take care of Ballard.
And if the law doesn't take care of him, I'm gonna take care of him.
One way or the other, there's gonna be justice.
I will have it.
Turns out, the local judge is in Ballard's pocket, and throws
out the suit without a hearing.
True to his word, Myrl doesn't let it end there. He persuades
other local ranchers to stand with him before Ballard gets around
to destroying them one at a time. Fifty of them ride on Ballard in a
body, and are met with gunfire. Vastly outnumbered, Ballard and
his men soon flee. Inaugurating what is to be his modus operandi,
A man who treats horses this way shouldn't have a barn. Get the
animals out, and burn it.
So Myrl and his posse are chasing Ballard all around the Wyoming
Territory, burning houses and barns of anyone who won't
in his manhunt. People start to take notice of this, including the
governor who doesn't want such shenanigans to be taking place while
he's welcoming a Congressional statehood delegation. He's a bit
sympathetic when he hears that Redding had sent an appeal to the
Attorney General after the corrupt Judge Wilkins had snubbed him,
but it had been remanded back to the local jurisdiction without
being read. An amnesty is prepared, to get him to come peaceably
into the capital and try to get the mess straightened out.
He accepts, but once in town, the governor hears that the sheriff
in Rawlins is charging Redding with murder in connection with two
people that have been killed during these contretemps, and is
outraged to hear that the amnesty was not well drawn up and covers
those events, even though they didn't know about them at the time.
He's looking for a legal way to let the charges proceed, but now
Judge Joe Tolliver (John Goodman) enters the story. His position
is not totally explained, but he seems to be the highest ranking
judge in Wyoming. He insists that Redding is safe unless he violates
the terms of the amnesty. Later, he rules that Myrl has done just
that when he writes in a letter that "I will continue the fight".
Level 2 Spoilers
Myrl is brought to trial in Tolliver's court in the capital. Faced
with some penny ante squabbling, the judge makes clear his
philosophy and objectivism:
What's relevant here is the law, I judge cases on law. Law's the
king with me, because if it wasn't, this territory, even if it
becomes a state, wouldn't be fit for a prairie dog.
He soon rules from the bench in favor of Redding in his suit
against Ballard, but leaves the murder charges up to a
to decide. Unfortunately, thanks to
perjurious testimony by the sheriff and others, he is found guilty
of one of the counts.
Speaking from the dock, Myrl makes his last statement.
I took the law into my own hands; I did it because there
was none in Rawlins. I wrote my own law, but I didn't create it.
In my mind, that law was there before we were born.
In pronouncing sentence, Tolliver orders
that Ballard will with his own hands restore the horses to their
original condition, and to Redding's satisfaction, after which
Redding will be hanged by the neck until he is dead. And this is
exactly what happens over the next several weeks or months.
The silver lining in this is that, on the day of the hanging,
Tolliver is speaking to Judge Wilkins and tells him man to man
that he intends to have him impeached.
In his last minutes with his son before ascending the gallows,
Myrl rejects Cage's talk about breaking him out of there, saying
that things went bad and he has to face the consequences. But then
Listen to me: somebody steps on your rights, go after him.
Never give up, never.
Just be smarter than I was.