Friday, September 3, 2010

The Jack Bull

This two-hour 1999 HBO movie, starring L.Q. Jones (Clint Weaver in Stagecoach Seven and Peterson in McGuffin) as a nasty and selfish rancher named Ballard, is set in Wyoming when the territory is on the verge of becoming a state. John Cusack stars as Myrl Redding, the horse trader who seeks justice and wreaks vengeance on Ballard. John Goodman plays Joe Tolliver, a judge, who appears more than halfway through The Jack Bull.

His bailiff is a woman--considering that Wyoming was the first state to give women in the US the vote, this is a nice touch in the movie. I immediately thought of Judge Handley when this character made his appearance. Amnesty from the governor of Wyoming Territory plays an important role in the film and the climax of The Jack Bull surprised me.

Notable for its beautiful cinematography--except that it was filmed in Alberta, Canada, not Wyoming--The Jack Bull is also interesting for its set design. The ranches and towns, saloons and offices, all look very different from the way they were depicted on ASJ. The buildings are much smaller and darker, the streets are a lot muddier, the interiors of buildings and the furniture in them are a lot simpler in construction and appearance, and the people look a lot dirtier as well. Probably this is a much more realistic portrayal of life at this time than how ASJ showed it.

The Jack Bull is based on an 18th century book by Heinrich von Kleist entitled Michael Kohlhaas about a horse trader of the same name in what is now Germany two hundred years earlier. It is a true story, and to see it transposed to the Old West of America makes the movie all the more remarkable. The moral issues that are explored in the film still resonate today. Available on DVD, the movie is definitely worth watching.

But by the end of The Jack Bull, I still didn't understand what the title means.