The Jack Bull

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The Jack Bull

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The Jack Bull

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Ever since Sam Peckinpah's landmark The Wild Bunch came out 30 years ago, Westerns have faced an ongoing identity crisis, constantly revising the bold mythmaking, violence, and morality that had come so naturally in the past. Some truly great films, such as McCabe And Mrs. Miller and Unforgiven, have come as a result of this painful process, but it's rare to find a Western that delivers the old conventions with satisfying ease, as if The Wild Bunch never existed. There's not an ounce of self-consciousness or moral ambiguity to be found in HBO's The Jack Bull, but it's well-told and always compelling, a solid return to the sort of old-fashioned time-fillers that were made for lazy Sunday afternoons. Working from his father's script, John Cusack turns in a fiercely committed performance as an honorable horse trader and family man who sacrifices everything he has in his relentless pursuit of justice. L.Q. Jones plays his mustache-twirling nemesis, a wealthy landowner taking advantage of the corruption and lawlessness in the Wyoming territory before it becomes a state. When Jones sets up a toll gate to block his horses from getting to auction, Cusack leaves two stallions with him until his return and comes back to find them emaciated and horribly abused. Cusack's fearless drive to get exactly what's coming to him—nothing more, nothing less—is reminiscent of Lee Marvin in Point Blank, but The Jack Bull doesn't fret much over the human costs of fighting the good fight. Journeyman director John Badham, whose career has ranged from the heights of Stakeout to the depths of Another Stakeout, never stops to question Cusack's heroism, but his moral clarity, however naïve, helps keep things moving along. Simple and powerful, The Jack Bull effectively links its story with Wyoming's bid for statehood and the importance of justice and law to ultimately prevail.

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