The Jack Bull was produced for and premiered on HBO, but it's easily the most respectable job that feature director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, WarGames) has done in the past two decades. The title refers not to a piece of livestock but a metaphorical Jack Russell terrier that, once it's annoyed enough to close its jaws on something, will hang on to the point of death.
That would be Myrl Redding (John Cusack), a horse-breeder of limited means but a deeply entrenched sense of justice. His independence galls Henry Ballard (L.Q. Jones), the crusty land baron out to set his brand on most of the countryside. Ballard insults and cheats Redding several times over, and his men beat Redding's horse trainer and friend, an Indian (Rodney A. Grant). When Redding seeks redress from the law, its agents can't be bothered (the local magistrate is in Ballard's pocket). So Redding musters a vigilante army to enforce his own law.
Scratch this handsome but rigorously unromanticized Western--fully an hour passes without a shot being fired--and you find the classic Heinrich von Kleist book Michael Kohlhaas transposed to Wyoming Territory on the eve of statehood. The script--by the star-producer's dad, Dick Cusack--is sturdy and uncompromising, willing to engage the knotty ambiguities of embracing vigilantism even in a just cause. Badham's decision to treat the authorities (Scott Wilson, Jay O. Sanders, John Goodman) as period caricatures is regrettable. But John Cusack is solid as a figure of utterly matter-of-fact integrity. --Richard T. Jameson
When wealthy landowner Henry Ballard sets up a toll gate and takes two of Myrl Redding?s horses in lieu of payment, Redding is enraged. But when those horses are starved and beaten almost to death, he demands justice. So begins a personal feud that becomes a war .. a war that becomes a manhunt ... and a trial that will lead to a bloody kind of Western justice.
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