The Hunting Party
Seriocomic buddy flick laughs at life after wartime
By Devin D. O’Leary
The Hunting Party
Directed by Richard Shepard
Cast: Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Jesse Eisenberg
What’s gotten into Richard Gere lately? I don’t mean that in an insulting way, either. The guy looks tan, rested and ready to make some movies. Ever since his sly, self-mocking turn in 2002’s Chicago, the fiftysomething actor has been delivering some fine, unselfconscious performances in some unexpected little films. These days, the guy seems less interested in conquering Hollywood American Gigolo-style and more interested in just having a hell of a good time on the job. He also, oddly enough, seems somewhat obsessed with journalists.
In his last film, Lasse Hallström’s winking comedy drama The Hoax, Gere played real-life biographer-turned-hoaxer Clifford Irving. In The Hunting Party, another adapted-from-real-life tale, Gere plays a burned-out TV journalist who gets caught up in the idea of hunting down a dangerous Serbian war criminal.
Gere is the main focus here, but the film is narrated by Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow), a risk-addicted cameraman known to his friends as “Duck.” Back in the day, Duck and his charismatic pal Simon (Gere) used to traverse the world, reporting on the hot stories of the day (and sleeping with whatever local ladies were available). At the height of the brutal Bosnian war, however, Simon had an on-air meltdown, which branded him a hardcore unemployable. While Duck landed on his feet with a cushy corporate assignment videotaping the evening news, Simon tumbled into the ranks of the freelance, scrambling around the globe to assorted hotspots of insurrection looking for his next meal ticket.
On assignment in Sarajevo for the 10th anniversary of the Bosnian peace accord, Duck runs into his old pal Simon. Brushing aside his thick aura of booze and desperation, Simon insists he’s got a solid gold story lead. Thanks to his assorted contacts, Simon allegedly knows the location of The Fox, the most wanted war criminal in all of Bosnia. Simon proposes an outrageous plan to locate and interview the mass-murdering psycho--just the sort of thing that would land him back in the big leagues. Despite the fact that there’s a $5 million bounty on the head of The Fox, Simon manages to con Duck and a wannabe young newsman (Jesse Eisenberg, The Squid and the Whale) into following him on his mad quest.
So how exactly could a ragtag band of journalists have nabbed a guy who the concerted efforts of the United Nations, the CIA and the Hague couldn’t locate? Well, the lying, the cheating and the stealing didn’t hurt. But The Hunting Party proposes a simpler solution: Nobody was actually looking. The film’s ultimate point is that wars aren’t filled with white hats and black hats—postwar even less so. Sometimes mass-murdering war criminals get away with it because it’s in the best interests of certain governments that they do. (Cough--bin Laden--cough.)
Now, it may be hard to believe all of this actually happened, but most of it seems to have. Based on an Esquire[xurl] article by Scott Anderson, the film cheekily admits--just before the final credits--exactly what was fabricated and what wasn’t. Very little of it was. Despite the heavy subject matter, writer/director Richard Shepard gives the film a healthy backbone of black humor. Some viewers may find Shepard’s take on the tragedy in Bosnia too flip. But he’s got something in mind here--the same sort of cynical madness that pervaded Altman’s M*A*S*H* and Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.
Shepard probably missteps in fleshing out Gere’s character with a too melodramatic backstory. Turns out he’s got a personal ax to grind with The Fox, which causes the film to detour into some sort of Jason Bourne-style revenge flick. Shepard handles the action well enough--that’s not the problem. But turning the hunt for The Fox deadly serious does suck some of the humor out of the film’s middle section. A series of last-second rescues strains credibility as well. A nifty wrap-up gives the film a good shot in the arm, though, delivering the cynical goods all involved are aiming for.
Quibbles about journalistic accuracy and the appropriateness of the jokes aside, The Hunting Party does boast a spot-on world-weary performance by Gere, a mile-wide streak of black humor and a cheerful willingness to step on the toes of those in power. Still, it ain’t easy to market a seriocomic buddy movie about the Bosnian war. Like Shepard’s last film, The Matador, The Hunting Party may just end up doomed to life as an underrated cult item. ... Oh well, there are worse fates. Just ask the Bosnians.
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