THE HUNTING PARTY
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Richard Gere,
Terrence Howard, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Kruger, James Brolin
Director: Richard Shepard
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Weinstein Company
Features: See Review
Length: 101 Minutes
Release Date: January 22, 2008
“You’re not making any sense now.”
“I know. I’m the United Nations.”
War is hell, as is being a journalist covering the bloodshed as it happens. It’s an insane atmosphere where anything can happen, and The Hunting Party is a strange, brilliantly chaotic dark comedy with so many tones going on at once, that it actually reflects that unpredictable environment. So many areas in the movies surprise in the sense that you don’t know if you’re going to laugh uncontrollably during a scene or react with horror.
Writer/director Richard Shepard, who helmed the ferociously funny dark comedy The Matador, has woven a marvel of movie that mixes fact and fiction flawlessly. Adapting his screenplay from a 2000 Esquire Magazine article by reporter Scott Anderson, titled “What I Did on My Summer Vacation”, Shepard’s film is reminiscent of such other hilariously chaotic war dramas like Three Kings and M*A*S*H* in its uncanny mixing of hilarious moments with serious war-related subject matter. The result is one of the most underrated films in years, and I’m still scratching my head over why the movie got the lackluster theatrical release it didn’t deserve.
The film opens with a bang as it covers the early journalistic exploits of war journalist Simon Hunt (Richard Gere), and his devoted cameraman, Duckie (Terrence Howard). They’ve covered countless war stories in Bosnia during the 90s, and had a lot of fun doing it. But the fun ended when Simon, having been distraught by the sight of a slaughtered innocents, had an on-air meltdown which led to a career downfall.
Duckie, meanwhile, went onto to receive a network promotion. Several years later, Duckie finds himself back in Bosnia to help cover a story on the fifth anniversary of the conflict. Much to Duckie’s surprise, Simon appears out of the blue.
Working as a freelance reporter for whatever country will purchase his news footage, Simon tells his one-time cameraman that he has an incredible lead. The information in question is the location of a man known only as The Fox, who has long been Bosnia’s most wanted war criminal. This character is unquestionably based on that of Radovan Karadzic.
There is a reported five million dollar reward for the capture of The Fox. Simon, with reasons of his own for hunting The Fox down, plans on capturing and claiming the reward. Duckie tags along for the ride against his will, but also because he possibly misses the adrenaline rush he got from his days of working by Simon’s side. There’s also a third member of the party, in the form of Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), a rookie journalist who’s also the son of the network vice president.
Before the end of the movie, these journalist will end up in so many insane situations, as well as some hilarious encounters. And the fun and tension escalate equally as the movie progresses, and the way Shepard balances the many crazy tones of the film is what makes The Hunting Party the genius piece of thought-provoking entertainment that it is. Balancing humor and serious drama, especially something so horrific as the Bosnian conflict, is not an easy task to accomplish, and Richard Shepard has executed it in such a brilliant, uncompromising way that his name is already right up there with Robert Altman and David O. Russell, understandably.
With each new project, Richard Gere is becoming a more fantastic actor, and his performance here illustrates that point tremendously. Gere has undergone a remarkable career reinvention in that he has found a knack for playing charismatic, fast-talking hustlers. He did so in The Hoax, playing literary fraud Clifford Irving, and he does an equally remarkable job here.
Terrence Howard continues his string of superior work as well. Howard and Gere play so great off one another, and they’re chemistry is so perfect that The Hunting Party could also be considered a buddy movie. And Jesse Eisenberg, fresh off his breakout role in The Squid and the Whale, is terrific and provides dead on comic relief as the rookie journalist who’s both clueless and incredibly smart, as demonstrated in one scene.
The Hunting Party is a treat of many sorts. The insane atmosphere established by writer/director Shepard is one to be savored, especially if you enjoy adventurous films that work in so many tones. Horrific, gritty, hilarious and tremendously entertaining all at once, this film is indeed one of a kind.
A most outstanding and solid presentation is what you’ll find on this Weinstein Company release. The movie is also quite a stylish one, with many image balances between gritty imagery and a brightly colored palette. A lively, largely detailed presentation from beginning to end, with not a single image flaw in sight.
An equally solid 5.1 mix is provided as well. Though mainly a dialogue driven film, there is plenty of war action surrounding the movie, and those scenes as well as dynamic music playback provide great strength in the presentation. Terrific dialogue delivery, as well.
This disc boasts the perfect amount of extras, most of which deals with the actual story that the film is based on. Included is a terrific commentary track with writer/director Richard Shepard, which is loaded with insight and absolutely no gaps. Also featured are Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary, two featurettes, “Making The Hunting Party” and “The Real Hunting Party”, which features Shepard interviewing the real reporters. Lastly, there’s a Theatrical Trailer, as well as the original Esquire article, “What I Did On My Summer Vacation”, that inspired the movie.
The Hunting Party is a brilliant exercise in the mixing of fact and fiction, in which case you aren’t sure which parts of the story are which. Fantastic performances and Richard Shepard’s original mix of comedy and pure chaos make this a must see for those seeking something very different.