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The Hunting Party



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</script></div>{/googleAds}The trailer (and DVD artwork) for Richard Shepard's The Hunting Party is rather deceptive, to say the least. Armed with nothing but a camera, microphone and sheer adrenaline, American journalists (Richard Gere and Terrence Howard) race through the streets of war-torn Bosnia, capturing the brutalities of Eastern Europe for nightly release into American living rooms. Despite an occasional jab among friends, their daily grind into death and destruction conjures a tone reminiscent of The Killing Fields. But when the reporters suddenly find themselves on the heels of an elusive war criminal, the mood shifts into heart-stopping high gear. Music pounds with intensity as the reporters stumble upon a dangerous truth that was never meant to be unearthed; a story that if revealed will not only threaten national security, but force the hunters to become the hunted.

At first blush, it is thrilling, inviting and artfully engaging, showcasing an action-packed docudrama that steps within the battle zone of Bosnia and strikes a political nerve with a serious and thought-provoking fist. Then, you press play and realize that you were just sucker-punched...big time.

In fact, Shepard - who with a dark, comedic hand also penned and directed The Matador - opens the equally black-humored The Hunting Party with a rather intriguing disclaimer: â"Only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true." Loosely (and I mean loosely) based on the Esquire article What I Did on My Summer Vacation by Scott K. Anderson, Shepard introduces us to the award-winning team of reporter Simon Hunt (Gere) and cameraman Duck (Howard), whose nine year partnership of filming, boozing and womanizing their way through war zones ended abruptly in 1994 when an act of savagery hit far too close to home. Simon snapped - imploding on live television - with his friend memorializing the breakdown. Ultimately, the network rewarded Duck with a cushy position as chief cameraman for the stiff, head anchor (James Brolin); Simon, on the other hand, was fired - left to stumble from one menial news job to the next until one day, he simply dropped off the radar.

Flash forward to the Fall of 2000 where, in Sarajevo, a celebration marks the fifth anniversary of war's end. While filming a puff-piece with journalism-newbie/ VP's son, Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), Duck is unexpectedly paid a visit by his old friend. Like a drunken ghost, Simon appears in his hotel room with a proposition that will not only arouse the adrenaline rush they once felt in barely escaping the cross-fire, but one that just may bring them millions: find â"The Fox" (Ljubomir Kerekes).

Having ordered the rape, torture and murder of thousands of innocent Muslims, The Fox (fictional alter ego of Dr. Radovan Karadzic) is one of the world's most wanted war criminals. And while â"the UN, NATO, the CIA, and every bounty hunter from here to Chuck Norris claim to be looking for him" - and the $5,000,000 bounty attached to his head - he continues to outfox the world's elite. Simon, however, claims to have a source that will lead him directly to his target deep in the Celebici mountains.

A combination of intrigue, friendship, guilt and insanity lead Duck to forego a Grecian vacation with his girlfriend (Joy Bryant), grab Benjamin, jump in Simon's lemon yellow Mercedes and embark on a three-person manhunt for the enigmatic architect of Bosnian genocide. Saving their hides from Deliverance-esque locals, gun-toting waiters, faithful henchman and testicle-twisting midgets is one thing, but when brain-dead allies within the UN mistake the trio for a CIA hit squad, the journalists suddenly find themselves dangerously closer to their prey in two days than any Marine or CIA agent has been in five years - or have they?

Albeit ambitious, the main problem with the once-titled (and thankfully canned) Spring Break in Bosnia is that for all its hunting, it never quite captures a definitive, cinematic style. Bordering historical realism and fictional absurdity, Shepard's The Hunting Party is instead, all over the map, genre-juggling tongue-in-cheek comedy with emotional tragedy, thrilling action with political preaching, and a Bosnian buddy romp with one man's road through revenge and redemption. Regretfully, it's such an odd blend of fact and fiction that even in its moments of historical accuracy, it never quite bears the ring of truth.

And with Anderson's truth actually proving stranger than fiction, it makes you wonder why Shepard strayed from his source at all. Rather than merely dramatize already interesting and existing players, Shepard chose to eliminate members of the real hunting party and replace them with three purely predictable bodies - the seasoned journalist who is burnt-out, the guilt-ridden cameraman who sold-out, and the floppy-haired protege fresh-out of Harvard - whose unimaginative banter and far-fetched situations (picture an executioner stopping to take a phone call right before his ax hits Benjamin's jugular, or cheating death a second time because Simon conveniently recognizes the thug who has a gun pointed at the back of his head) are often hard to swallow.

Even more difficult to take, however, is the political finger Shepard points throughout the film. While most will lend an open and curious ear to the shocking accusations made against our government and its alleged working relationship with war criminals (e.g., that many walk freely among their faithful without the threat of government capture; that the U.S. posted old, unrecognizable photos of, and a phony 1-800-number for information leading to, Karadzic in order to create the facade of an active manhunt; and most injuriously, that the U.S. actually struck â"a deal" with Karadzic), it loses credence when comedy is injected into the carnage. Shepard's case is strong, particularly in light of the recent additions of novelist and playwright to Karadzic's resume; however, by going further and declaring that we merely â"claim" to be looking for Bin Laden, it turns a semi-fictional film on the Bosnian War into his own mocumentary/ propaganda piece on the War on Terror.

Obvious tonal and screenplay problems aside, filming in The Balkans give The Hunting Party an incomparable authenticity. Furthermore, the acting is strong, with fine performances by, and surprisingly electric chemistry between, Gere and Howard (not to mention, Gere's trademark sneer feels almost tailored for the ever-conniving Simon). Somehow, in spite of Shepard's often unnatural dialogue, they make their camaraderie feel effortless; an intimate and unspoken bond created during war-time atrocities that no passage of time can erase. And in true friendship form, when they finally meet again, it's like they never missed a day. It is that on-screen presence that breathes new life into a sometimes listless experience.

Nevertheless, for all its misfires - cheesy dialogue (â"that adrenaline rush and non-stop erection of fear and war;" â"putting your life in danger is living, the rest is television" ) awkward tone, conspiracy theories, underdeveloped characters and at times, overly-ridiculous fictions - what keeps The Hunting Party alive with entertainment is the constant reminder that there is, in fact, an underlying comedic truth to it all. And while most directors target the war genre from a serious and somber perspective, Shepard makes a bold and refreshing move by shooting dark satire into the mix. Unfortunately for us, however, it never quite hits the bulls-eye.


DVD

DVD Details:

Screen Formats: 2.35:1

Subtitles: English; Spanish; Closed Captioned

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access..

* Commentary
o with writer/director Shepard
* Deleted Scenes - Six deleted scenes (presented in non-anamorphic widescreen) playable separately or all together (05:22)
* Featurettes:
o The Real Hunting Party (29:40)
o Making 'The Hunting Party (09:18)
* Theatrical Trailer

Number of Discs: 1 with Keepcase Packaging

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