The Hunting Party
January 25, 2008
The Hunting Party (2007) harkens back to a trend in the 1980s of films about journalists in war-torn Third World countries: Under Fire (1983), The Killing Fields (1984), and Salvador (1986).These films featured flawed reporters putting their lives on the line for hard-hitting truths and righteous causes. In the 1990s, this trend seemed to fade with a few notable exceptions like The Insider (1999) but now The Hunting Party attempts to revive this type of film for our politically charged times.
Ever wonder how the major news networks like CNN get all of that footage of war-ravaged countries being torn apart by civil war? Guys like Simon Hunt (Gere) and his cameraman, Duck (Howard) risk their lives to get the best footage and the exclusive stories. They also get off on the adrenaline rush but after nine years of reporting on carnage and injustice, Simon snaps during a live televised broadcast and gets fired while Duck is given a promotion to a cushy network gig.
Years later, Simon has drifted into obscurity and urban legend while Duck has become complacent. However, Duck has come to miss the rush of risking life and limb with his former compatriot. While in Bosnia, covering the aftermath of their bloody civil war with a wet-behind-the-ears journalism student (Eisenberg), Duck runs into Simon. He appeals to his desire to get back into it with a tantalizing offer: he knows the location of Dr. Boghdanovic a.k.a. the Fox, the most notorious war criminal in Bosnia and who is so elusive and well-guarded that no one can get to him. Simon makes it sound like an easy task but of course it isn’t going to be. Along the way, Simon, Duck and their young charge are mistaken for CIA agents and are almost killed by black marketers.
Richard Gere does an excellent job conveying the hungry desperation of his character. He has nothing left to lose and sees the Fox as his ticket back to the big time. There is a haunted quality to Simon and Gere hints at a past trauma that informs all of his decisions and his determination to find the Fox. The actor also brings an affable intensity to the role that seems like a jarring mix but is one that he makes work.
Terrence Howard’s Duck is full of laidback charm and acts as our guide on this story. His character is also the voice of reason on Simon’s insane mission. Even though he exudes rationality, there is a glint in Howard’s eye that suggests Duck hasn’t gone totally soft. The actor portrays Duck as a mediator between the two extreme characters in his group – the inexperienced student that tags along and Simon, the grizzled veteran. In some respects, it is a thankless role because Howard can’t be as colourful as his fellow actors but he is telling the story and therefore has the most important role in the film.
For two thirds of The Hunting Party, director Richard Shepard (The Matador) maintains a tense mood while injecting moments of comedy as the protagonists get closer to the Fox and find themselves, rather frighteningly, at his mercy. However, for the last third, they turn the tables on their prey. The film ends on a wonderfully cheeky note with an epilogue that lets us know what was based on fact and what was made up. Most importantly, The Hunting Party asks questions like why are notorious war criminals in Bosnia, or someone like Osama Bin Laden in the Middle East, have not been caught and with apparently very little to no effort? The audience is left to ponder the answer.
There is an audio commentary with writer/director Richard Shepard. He points out that they actually shot on location in Croatia and Bosnia. In the film’s opening battle scenes, Gere and Howard did their own stunts (including being precarious close to real explosions). Shepard talks about maintaining a balance of comedy and drama. He points out how he was able to make his film on a small budget, compromises he made with the script, how he cut corners, and so on. It was important for him to shoot on location because he wanted the cast and crew to see the places where the actual events took place. Shepard delivers an engaging, chatty track that is entertaining and informative.
Also included are six deleted scenes with optional commentary by Shepard. There is an extension of a scene where we learn how Duck got his nickname. There is a nice scene where our three protagonists discuss a conspiracy theory about the Fox. Shepard is fairly candid about why this footage was cut and laments the removal of some of it.
“Making The Hunting Party” features Shepard talking about how he wanted to make a film in a post-war city and first considered Baghdad but read a story in Esquire magazine about a group of journalists’ search for a Bosnian war criminal and that inspired him to dramatize the story in a film. He also talks about shooting in Croatia and Bosnia and how it affected everyone, conveying a sense of history because of what has happened there.
“The Real Hunting Party” features Shepard interviewing two of the journalists – John Falk and Scott Anderson – included in the Esquire article that inspired the film for 30 minutes. The two reporters talk about the actual events and come across (not surprisingly) as very personable and natural storytellers.
“What I Did On My Summer Vacation” is the actual Esquire article and is a real nice touch that they included it on the DVD as you can now read the source material.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.