- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © The Weinstein Co.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
riter/director Richard Shepard’s “The Matador” was one the more criminally overlooked films of 2006, so it’s not surprising that his new movie, "The Hunting Party," would suffer the same fate. Inspired by veteran war correspondent Scott Anderson’s Esquire article, “What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” the film is about a group of journalists who were able to do in a matter of days what the CIA, United Nations, NATO, and every other international agency failed to do over the course of several years. It’s a hard pill to swallow, for sure, but as the opening title card states, the most ridiculous events in the film are the ones that fall closest to the truth.
Richard Gere stars as Simon Hunt, a war journalist who, along with his friend Duck (Terrence Howard), leads one of the best reporter-cameraman teams in the country. Their coverage of the Bosnian War earned the duo heaps of awards, but when an on-air meltdown results in Simon’s firing, Duck moves on to a comfy gig as chief camera operator for the network’s head anchor (James Brolin). Five years later, the war has ended, and during a trip back to Bosnia to cover the celebration, Duck runs into a disheveled Simon, who’s currently plotting to track down an infamous war criminal called “The Fox” and claim the $5 million bounty. Joined by rookie reporter Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), the trio embarks on a dangerous journey through the backcountry of Bosnia. But when they’re mistaken for a CIA hit squad, the hunters suddenly become the hunted.
Sounds like a pretty entertaining setup, right? Well, it is, for the most part, but like so many Weinstein productions from the last few years, “The Hunting Party” was curiously missing from most major markets during its limited release. Some might blame the film’s political message on its terrible performance, but the fact of the matter is, Shepard’s story just isn’t focused enough to market the movie to one audience. At first, it plays like a dark satire (with Terrence Howard’s narration delivering a comedic look at the world of war journalism), but by the time the film reaches its conclusion, it's much more of a political thriller. Perhaps retaining the film's original title ("Spring Break in Bosnia") would have stirred up more interest.
Equally problematic is the constant change in lead protagonists. As the film’s headlining star, Richard Gere seems the obvious choice, but Howard carries the first half of the story almost entirely on his shoulders. As a result, that portion of the movie is far more enjoyable – partly because of the material, but mostly because Gere’s performance just isn’t up to his standards. Jesse Eisenberg, meanwhile, is relegated to playing the role of the comic relief, when we know that he deserves better (as “The Squid and the Whale” has proven), and Diane Kruger is wasted in a role that could have been played by any actress of Eastern European descent. In fact, the real-life person was actually a man, so why bother casting Kruger at all?
In the end, “The Hunting Party” is still a solid entry in both the black comedy and political thriller genres. Although the film feels a little long for its purported 101-minute runtime, there’s still plenty to enjoy about a flick that most people have never seen, let alone know about. It’s not quite as must-see as Shepard’s “The Matador,” but for those who’d love to watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert travel to Afghanistan in search of Osama Bin Laden, it doesn’t get any closer than this.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
The single-disc release of “The Hunting Party” isn’t very flattering, but while the movie-related bits are mostly lame (audio commentary with writer/director Richard Shepard, deleted scenes, making-of featurette, etc.), the inclusion of a candid interview between Shepard and two of the original journalists prevents the Blu-ray from being a complete disappointment. Also included is the original Esquire article.