“Don’t stare at the midget”
Based on an article that was published in Esquire, The Hunting Party tells the story of three journalists—actually five as the end of the film will explain during its comical “what was true and what wasn’t” montage—who took it upon themselves to find the most wanted war criminal in the world, Bosnia’s “The Fox”. Brought to screen by Richard Shepard, this is a movie that keeps you highly enthralled throughout. It may not be as solid a film as his previous effort, the underrated comedy The Matador, because it tries to push an agenda against all that was working for it. At its best, everything is absolutely pitch-perfect: taut thrills, suspenseful story, and great acting. As for the worst, it becomes a diatribe on how the world’s governments care more about money than safety. Honestly, we all know this and don’t need our entertainment to jam it into our skulls even more. Falling into a growing category for me—one that includes Blood Diamond—the end result here is a great film that just can’t stop from trying to be more than it is, stumbling on its misguided mission rather than allowing its natural momentum to carry it through to the finish.
Stylistically this thing is beautiful to look at. I enjoyed the use of freeze-frames during the exposition scenes and the moments in warzones come across as real, dangerous, and above all else exciting. The joy and genuine laughter emitting from our leads after they narrowly escape death over and over again adds to the code of living life to the fullest that they both follow. Shepard holds some cards close to his chest also, showing us events leading up to Simon Hunt’s breakdown, all but killing his career, however not explaining the entire story until absolutely necessary. Each character’s motives aren’t exactly the same towards the end as they were in the beginning. What’s first a quest for redemption (Hunt), youthful vibrancy (Duck), and an excuse to show his father that he is made of more than a cushy Harvard school lifestyle (Benjamin) soon becomes a mission to do the right thing. These men are fighting for civility and humanity, two things that have left that part of the world and is in desperate need for return, despite the efforts of those that should be helping who instead are only adding to the destruction.
One can’t fault any of our journalistic trio for anything they may find wrong with the final product. Richard Gere is spectacular as the fallen reporter, who we will eventually find has lost more than just his career. The desperation is always true and his actions perfectly played against the more sane members of the troupe. Terrence Howard shows us how great he can be and makes us wonder why he still feels the need to choose some god-awful movies between his good ones. The transformation Duck takes, in just a few short cuts, is rather staggering while essential to his role’s motives later on. Going from an adrenaline junkie cameraman to a stand-in executive whose field work entails setting up outside the White House and Capital Hill almost makes you wonder how he ever could have changed so much. Then you think about the money, the security, and the relaxation time and soon the concept seems too good for anyone to pass up. The taste of danger never left, however, and it is his wrestling with that, by using some nicely timed humor, that helps carry the story to its conclusion. As for the boss’s son Benjamin, on his first foreign correspondence, Jesse Eisenberg epitomizes the book-smartass attitude someone in that position would have. It is his willingness to learn and bullheaded mindset to not let these two guys do anything to make him out to be a wuss that lead him to becoming an integral part to the team and mission at hand.
Along with them, every character that is met with on the journey to find “The Fox” adds just the right amount of infused quirk needed to keep interest. While familiar faces like James Brolin and Diane Kruger play their parts well, it is a guy like Mark Ivanir as Boris the UN executive that shines. He is caught up in this imaginary scheme of CIA hit squads coming in to do that which he wishes he could. It appears he has watched too many American movies and the dream of being a real live Deepthroat seems to appeal to his sensibilities as he attempts to help the trio in their quest to find that which is never found. These bit parts bring much of the laughter and absurdity that counterbalances the abundance of drama and high emotional toll seen at every turn. The Hunting Party does not try and sugar-coat what is going on in the Balkans and pays much attention in showing the truth and not what is read in the history books, both figuratively and literally—the book in physical form during a nice scene of Howard opening the innocent eyes of Eisenberg in a bar, along with the help of four of the real-life reporters on which the film is based.
Shot with some wonderful compositions and blocking of actors to build a sense of suspense and fear, Shepard has crafted a winner. Besides a too-long scene that goes on and on about how the UN and people in power are only out to create good PR without any work going towards punishing the monsters running free, I have little to complain about. I was almost completely removed from enjoyment with the horribly trite and overused joke with the ending subtitled words, but was redeemed with the inventive “what was real” sequence. To see the humor that was bubbling under the surface for the duration stick to the screen even after the story was finished brought the smile back to my face and made me remember all that worked, letting the more wrong than right final act to dissolve into the background.
The Hunting Party 8/10 | ★ ★ ★