Friday, July 11, 2014
"The Jack Bull" with John Cusak and John Goodman (1999)
John Cusak plays rancher Myrl Redding in this story based on true events. It is a story of the search for justice; justice denied; and then a hard lesson. When no one is willing to back up; when no one is willing to compromise; the results can never be satisfactory.
Mryl is a proud and hard-working rancher. He raises some of the finest horses in Wyoming. When he takes a group of his horses; along with his hired hands; on a trip to complete a sale, he finds himself caught in a struggle with the wealthiest landowner in the territory of Wyoming; which is poised to become a state. But for the time being it is still a lawless place; which works in the favor of Henry Ballard, played by L.Q. Jones.
Ballard has erected a toll gate on the only path to the markets in the rest of the territory. He demands $10 per person to cross his land. There are no roads. When Myrl leaves 2 horses as collateral for the cash he does not have, a chain of events is unleashed, and impacting both men in ways they could never have foreseen.
Myrl returns to retrieve his horses, only to find them half-starved and abused beyond recognition. He tells Ballard that he has 2 weeks to nurse the horses back to health or pay the value of the animals. Ballard laughs and drives him off. This leaves Myrl with no other choice than to seek redress in the courts. But the territorial judge is in the pocket of Ballard and so nothing is done to make Myrl whole.
Myrl now intends to bring a petition for statehood directly to the state capitol, where he intends to present it to the Governor. His wife Cora, played by Miranda Otto, takes the petition instead. She is accompanied by Myrl’s best man. But when they arrive at the capitol Ballard’s men are waiting.
They beat the hired hand and frighten the horses, causing Cora to be run over by a wagon. She dies on the journey home. Myrl has now been pushed beyond all reason and decides to take revenge. During the ensuing violence another man’s wife is killed and property damaged. The local judge is such a joke that another Judge is sent into the territory to stage a trial of both men. Their actions have now impacted others who were not involved in the original argument.
Judge Tolliver, played by John Goodman, is a tough and fair man. He intends to deliver justice to both men. He is also a very compassionate man, but he finds fault with both.
After a short trial the judge delivers his verdict. Ballard will restore the horses to their former state. Moreover, he will do this while working in Myrl’s stable. Ballard is furious with the verdict. But the judge is not through yet. He imposes the ultimate sentence on Myrl; to be carried out after his horses have been restored.
His reasoning is simple; Myrl wanted to see justice done so badly that he was willing to break the law in pursuit of that goal. So the judge lets him live long enough to get the justice he demands; and then punishes him for his crimes against others.
This is a film about the inability to compromise; or to see beyond your own personal goals. The desire for justice; when meted out without regard for mercy or compromise; can often be just as bad as justice denied. That is a lesson which both Myrl and Ballard have to learn the hard way. Judge Tolliver has the hardest job of all; he must find a balance which addresses the transgressions of both parties; leaving little room for the mercy and compromise which both men have previously rejected.
Intense acting from all parties, along with a tightly written script, give this movie an air of authority. Originally made for television in 1999 and released on DVD in 2010, this film is eerily reminiscent of the Chinese film "The Story of Qui Ju", which was released in 1992. For a review of that film, use this link;