The Jack Bull

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The Jack Bull
An unshaven man with a cowboy hat looks scornfully on his left. Below him, in contre-jour, a group of men riding horses side to side face the camera.
Front DVD cover.
Directed by John Badham
Produced by Kevin Reidy
D.V. DeVincentis
Written by Dick Cusack
John Pogue
Based on Michael Kohlhaas 
by Heinrich von Kleist
Starring John Cusack
John Goodman
L.Q. Jones
Miranda Otto
John C. McGinley
Music by Lennie Niehaus
Cinematography Gale Tattersall
Edited by Frank Morriss
Production
company
Release dates
  • April 17, 1999 (1999-04-17)
Running time 116 minutes
Country USA
Language English

The Jack Bull (1999) is a television western movie, produced for HBO, and directed by John Badham. It is loosely based on Michael Kohlhaas, a novel by Heinrich von Kleist, with the script by Dick Cusack. Much of the movie was filmed at the CL Ranch and the Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary, Alberta.

Plot summary[edit]

The Jack Bull is about a normal horse trader, Myrl Redding (John Cusack), who cherishes the law and his rights. He lives a normal life with his son, Cage (Drake Bell), his wife Cora (Miranda Otto) and his good friends. However he clashed one day with land baron Henry Ballard (L. Q. Jones) over Wyoming's bid for statehood. If Wyoming remains a territory, Henry Ballard can continue to buy more land and eventually evict its residents; however if Wyoming becomes a state then his rights to the land will be restricted. After further conflict with Ballard, Redding attempts to take his horses to a horse market in Casper. However he encounters Ballard, who has built a tollgate that blocks the road to Casper, charging a fee for passage. Redding realizes going around would take too long to get the horses to market on time, with the market closed before he could arrive. Ballard tells Redding that he will allow Redding to cross with a fee of ten dollars. Redding gives him five and leaves two black stallions as collateral for the other five. He also leaves his Indian friend and worker Billy to make sure the horses are not mistreated. Redding arrives at Casper on time and sells his horses, with the exception of the two he left behind and makes his way back to his home. He stops for his horses and finds Billy is missing and his horses are starved, diseased, beaten, and near death. He beats one of Ballard's henchmen and demands that his horses be returned healthy and fed. Ballard says he'll never do it and Redding leaves, saying he has two weeks to comply with his demands. Ballard ignores him and returns to his normal life.

Redding returns home and finds Billy beaten and bitten. Billy describes how one of Ballard's henchmen had the two horses chained to a wagon of logs and was beating them when they rested even though they had been working for hours. Billy attempted to stop him but he was attacked by two other henchmen who then set the dogs on him. He said he was forced to flee and would've been killed if he had returned. Redding agrees with Billy and sympathizes with him, telling him it was not his fault for what happened to the horses. He departs that day for the local town and approaches the local lawyer and asks for legal help. The lawyer tells Redding he will probably not win because it is an Indian's word against a wealthy white man's. Redding says to do it anyway and leaves after paying ten dollars in lawyer fees.

A week passes and nothing happens, and Redding tells his lawyer to speed up the case. The lawyer intercepts Judge Wilkins, the local judge, on the way to the barber and pleads for a chance to make their case. Wilkins, who has a financial interest in Ballard's business, tells them that he is throwing the case out and advises the lawyer to choose his clients more carefully, stating "You're shoveling shit out of the mountain." The lawyer informs Redding about Judge Wilkins decision and after his wife finds out she tells Redding that she is good friends with the District Attorney's wife, and she departs for Casper to plead their case before the D.A. She and Woody, Redding's trusted friend, depart for Casper and he drops her off in front of the D.A.'s office. When she arrives at the office she is informed she needs an appointment and she reluctantly leaves after leaving her name. However unknown to her two of Ballard's henchmen had beaten Woody and thrown him into a carriage, knocking the driver off. The wild carriage runs her over as she is crossing the street, making her death a very unfortunate coincidence caused by Ballard's men. Woody gives the documented complaint against Ballard directly to the D.A., who emerges to see what has happened. Woody then drives Cora's body back to Myrl's household where they bury her. To make matters worse, Redding's lawyer returns with news that the D.A. has sent the case back to Judge Wilkins, who has once again thrown the case out. Redding, distraught with the loss of his wife and realizing that the justice system will do nothing to stop Ballard, takes justice into his own hands and rallies the local farmers against Ballard. Although some have doubts, he talks them into joining him with the offer that he will pay each man who joins him fifteen dollars a month.

Redding and his new militia of farmers ride towards Ballard's house where they rout Ballard's men and Ballard himself flees for his life for Casper. Redding burns down Ballard's stable and leaves for the local town, looking for Ballard. After questioning a local farmer who refuses to tell them Ballard's location, he burns down the farmer's barn and leaves the barn smoldering. They then ride to a local Amish community and threaten to burn down the houses if they hide Ballard or refuse to give them the location. After the Amish people tell him they don't even know Ballard, he asks for a person who knows how to print. They find one and offer him fifteen dollars to mass-produce fliers demanding Ballard that he has a week to get the horses fed and healthy. Ballard meanwhile, had reached Casper and pleads for help from the Governor of Wyoming himself. The Governor offers protection and charges the Sheriff to find and arrest Redding. But after only a day of searching, the Sheriff is ambushed during the night and during a brief struggle Redding kills one of Ballard's men, Slater, after he attempts to shoot Billy. He forces the sheriff at gunpoint to say that it was self-defense, and after Redding departs the Sheriff returns to Casper and tells news that Slater was shot dead by Redding. Meanwhile Billy, while riding back to Ballard's house is shot by its caretaker Conrad. After a brief firefight Conrad shoots his wife by accident and Billy and Redding leave.

Meanwhile the Governor, after conversing with Judge Joe B. Tolliver (John Goodman) and the Attorney General decides to offer Redding amnesty if he turns himself in. Redding accepts but Billy doesn't, saying that land Ballard took belonged to his native tribe. Billy leaves and Redding arrives in Casper to participate in the trial of Henry Ballard. During the trial however the D.A.'s assistant informs them that Judge Wilkins is charging Redding with two counts of murder and armed insurrection. However the amnesty agreement was typed before the charges were sent, putting the Governor in a bind. If he charges Redding, he will break the amnesty agreement, but if he doesn't charge Redding, he will be violating a judge's charges. The governor decides he will charge Redding if he breaks the amnesty agreement. The trial ends after several witnesses testify that the horses were indeed healthy stallions although Ballard testifies otherwise. Judge Tolliver agrees with Redding and orders Ballard to restore the horses to their previous health.

Meanwhile, Billy has sued Ballard for the land rights but is losing, so he sends a messenger to Redding in an attempt to gain leverage over Ballard. Redding writes a letter of support but the messenger is ambushed while leaving Redding's hotel. The letter is used as proof to show Redding has violated his amnesty and he is charged with two counts of murder and armed insurrection. He is found guilty of one count of murder and armed insurrection at the same time that Billy and his Indians are ambushed by the Wyoming Army. Redding is sentenced to be hanged and Ballard is charged with perjury for lying under oath and sentenced to two years in jail, three months of which will be spent restoring the two stallions' health. Further consequence is that Ballard will lose his life savings.

On the day of the hanging, Redding meets with his son and tells him to always work hard and never give up. After a heartfelt goodbye, Redding is called to inspect the two horses. After confirming that they have been restored, Ballard curses him and claims Redding got nothing from Ballard. Redding replies simply, "You did what I said you would." Ballard is carried away screaming and Redding is marched to the gallows. Judge Tolliver, who seems compassionate toward Redding and his principles, finds Judge Wilkins in a bar. Tolliver angrily berates him for charging an innocent man with murder. He then says that he has sent a letter to the governor asking for a committee, that he'll oversee, to review Wilkins' ability to be a judge, and says he hopes they will find him unable. Judge Wilkins, obviously distraught, attempts to order a drink, to which the bartender replies, "Ten dollars a shot", mocking the judge about how Ballard charged Redding ten dollars to cross the land and how Wilkins did nothing about it. The bartender leaves Wilkins miserable and dishonored. Redding walks to the gallows but not before being hugged by his son and another heartfelt goodbye. He is hanged and various clips show. One is of his son, Cage and Woody leading the two stallions along with Redding's body away from the city back home. Another shows the Wyoming marching band parading down the street announcing Wyoming has become a state.

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