AN ORIGINAL GONZO TREAT
THE HUNTING PARTY, Richard Shepard’s rowdy, sharp-edged celebration of journalistic hubris — it’s your basic, everyday comic romp through Bosnia — is based on Scott Anderson’s 2000 Esquirestory. But it’s more like a remake of Oliver Stone’s Salvador that’s too jadedly madcap to take itself seriously. Richard Gere, who has reinvented his career, merrily, by playing motor-mouthed hustlers with a heart, has a high old time as Simon Hunt, a fallen TV network correspondent who is hooked on danger. When his old buddy, the ace cameraman Duck (Terrence Howard), pops up in Bosnia to shoot a soft-news feature, Hunt resurfaces with a mad ambition. He wants to land an interview with ”the Fox,” the most wanted of Bosnia’s war criminals — and, just maybe, to capture him in the process. To call this plan quixotic would be an understatement. The Fox, who is the film’s thinly fictionalized version of Radovan Karadzic, oversaw the rape and slaughter of thousands of Muslims, and is still protected by men devoted to his cause. Trying to get to him is a bit like trying to get to Osama bin Laden. What makes The Hunting Party an original, gonzo treat is the way that Shepard plants the movie’s tone somewhere between hair-trigger investigative danger and the from-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire glee of a Hope/Crosby picture. It’s Road to the Belly of the Beast.
As they drive through the Bosnian countryside, which looks disquietingly like somewhere in Oregon, Gere keeps us guessing whether Hunt’s zeal for the story is ”moral” or simply addictive. Howard, in the second-banana role, is a perfect foil — his slower, guarded rhythms are the equivalent of raised eyebrows — and Jesse Eisenberg, from The Squid and the Whale, shows a crack comic instinct as the network executive’s son who talks his way into traveling with the two men and ends up improvising their most daring gambit. Everyone winds up believing that they’re working for the CIA — a good, lightweight joke. What isn’t so easy to laugh off is the prospect of a movie that uses ethnic cleansing as a springboard for laughs. I left feeling a bit uncomfortable, but the fact that Shepard gets away with it at all is a testament to his talent. B+
– Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
WORTH CHASING DOWN – * * * OUT OF 4 STARS
Despite THE HUNTING PARTY‘s disclaimer, “Only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true,” this black comedy/political action thriller doesn’t feel like a true story in the conventional sense. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since there are plenty of earnest films about the horrors of war, just as there is no shortage of high-octane thrillers. But when a movie is a hybrid of this sort, it can be tough to strike just the right tone. Mostly, THE HUNTING PARTY manages. It chronicles in faux documentary style the Bosnian misadventures of a has-been war correspondent (Richard Gere), a seasoned cameraman whose star is rising (Terrence Howard) and a fledgling reporter (Jesse Eisenberg). Writer/director Richard Shepard, whose underrated 2005 film THE MATADOR was a darkly hilarious character study, is the right person to pull off a wry tale set in a sad country ravaged by genocide. The film is not without its missteps, but it is saved by Shepard’s sharp writing, Gere’s performance, which combines just the right amounts of edge, bravado and self-destructiveness, and Howard’s portrayal, which feels authentically cynical. The Hunting Party is an acerbic satire focusing on what appear to be the pipe dreams of Simon Hunt (Gere). Simon had a very public meltdown, while the fortunes of his cameraman colleague Duck (Howard) have taken off just as Simon’s have dwindled. The pair worked together covering wars in some of the most perilous spots around the globe, establishing their reputations and winning awards. After Duck is promoted, Simon appears to have disappeared. They meet up again half a decade later in Sarajevo. Simon convinces Duck that he knows the whereabouts of the country’s most-wanted war criminal, known as the Fox (Ljubomir Kerekes). Simon and Duck are joined by Benjamin (Eisenberg) in their fox hunting. It’s almost a mathematical formula: If Howard is in a movie, the value of it is raised exponentially. He’s a natural acting talent, investing his portrayals with a potent blend of authenticity and charisma. He made The Brave One a better movie than it should have been, and he is a valuable asset here. Gere is having a strong year, first with The Hoax, now this. Overall, the story moves along with a finely calibrated intensity. The end wraps up too neatly, but THE HUNTING PARTY still is a movie worth chasing down.
– Claudia Puig, USA Today
THEY PULL IT OFF AT EVERY STEP – A HELLUVA GOOD TIME
Robert: Next up is a movie that I liked a great deal. It’s the latest from Richard Shepard maker of the mighty THE MATADOR a few years back
Richard Yes. Yes…
Robert: It’s called THE HUNTING PARTY, and this is Richard Shepard’s latest foray into male bonding. It further explores Shepard’s interest in how men show each [other]- you know -something resembling love. Like many of the best movies about war and its lingering echoes from MASH, to Three Kings, to No Man’s Land, THE HUNTING PARTY is full of dark, choke on ‘em laughs. These are averge men in search of a monster, and still they manage to have a pretty damn good time. Just like I did.
Richard: I couldn’t agree with you more. A helluva good time. Very strange that they could pull this off. You mentioned Three Kings; I was reminded of Salvador with James Woods where you have this combination of dark humor and a real serious subject. I think that maybe this is the best way to approach this. We’ve seen so many serious films about the consequences of war, and journalists covering war, and they get burnt out and all those themes, and to do it this way, in this sort of strange, breezy style, and yet to be able to pull it off and not be disrespectful is no mean feat. And they pull it off here. At every step, I thought.
Robert: I think it’s hard for these movies about war correspondents because they tend to romanticize an exploitive sort of suicidal gig, but it really comes off quite well here.
Richard: Yeah. Even the approach that it’s based on a true story. They have a lot of fun with that in the opening segment and the closing credits are fantastic when they explain what’s real and what’s not quite real. You always get those codas telling us what happened to this person, and that this guy was never found, and they do it here in a way that’s just brilliant, I think.
Robert: With THE MATADOR and THE HUNTING PARTY, Richard Shepard has really found his voice as someone who makes really powerful and really funny movies.
Richard: Two good films in a row for him, and two good performances in a row from Richard Gere with this and The Hoax. Good Stuff.
– Richard Roeper & Robert Wilonsky (guest critic), Ebert & Roeper At The Movies
THIS IS A SHOCKING FILM
Allison: Realistic reportage is mixed with elements of an exciting Hollywood style thriller written and directed by Richard Shepard who previously directed THE MATADOR. Part buddy road trip, part political commentary, THE HUNTING PARTY is that rare piece of entertainment that also has something to say. Wow. we’re seeing some good flms today. We’re getting into that time of of year when we’re seeing more serious films. This does have an issue attached to it- tracking down these war criminals -but this also is very funny. Very entertaining. Richard Gere and Terrence Howard have a great rapport. I thouroughly enjoyed this. I thought it had something for everyone.
Jeffrey: This film focuses on why these war criminals are still on the loose. That two other war criminals are still on the loose in another part of the world resonates with today. It’s a shocking film. It gets you involved. Terrence Howard working with Richard Gere for the very first time is very good. Jesse Eisenberg lends a sense of humor here and there. It’s a really scary movie.
– Jeffrey Lyons & Allison Bailes, Reel Talk
A ROCK ‘N’ ROLL POSTWAR PIC
With 2005′s THE MATADOR writer-director Richard Shepard slyly and effectively mined the possibilities of dark humor in a deadly situation: a washed-up hit man on the verge of burnout. In THE HUNTING PARTY, he applies the same tactic in an even bleaker place: Bosnia, where a group of journalists seeks out a wanted war criminal to… interview him? Capture him? Even they’re not quite sure what they’d do if they found him.
Shepard has made a rock ‘n’ roll war postwar picture, one that’s slick and stylish but has something to say. Shot on location in Bosnia and Croatia, it conveys a visceral sense of decay and loss. And Shepard strikes just the right absurd, satirical tone until near the end, when he allows the film to take some turns that wrap things up a bit too conveniently. Richard Gere, Terrence Howard and Jesse Eisenberg play off each other beautifully throughout, though, as the mismatched trio whose adventures are based on some of the real-life events detailed in an Esquire magazine article by Scott Anderson.As veteran TV news correspondent Simon Hunt, Gere has covered conflicts around the globe and has seen it all — until he sees too much one day in Bosnia, causing him to snap and deliver an epic meltdown live on the air. (James Brolin is a perfect casting choice as the pompous anchor on the receiving end of this tirade back in the air-conditioned New York studio.) Drunk, glib and self-destructive, Simon shows glimmers of the irresistible cad Pierce Brosnan played in THE MATADOR, except that he has more drive. Five years after the end of fighting in Bosnia, he thinks he has a phenomenal scoop that will help him revive his career: He knows the location of the feared war criminal known as “The Fox” (Ljubomir Kerekes), who murdered thousands of Bosnian Muslims and has since gone into hiding in the mountains. Simon enlists old pal and longtime cameraman Duck (Howard) to join him on this quest. Back in their heyday, Duck would have been up for anything, and in the film’s whiz-bang opening, you see the two of them cracking wise while dodging bullets. Now, Duck has a cushy network gig but he still longs for the rush of his former life in the field. And so he says yes to Simon’s crazy plan, even though he has a gorgeous woman (Joy Bryant) waiting for him to join her on vacation after he finishes up his work in Bosnia.
The third member of their makeshift team is Benjamin (Eisenberg of “The Squid and the Whale”), a jittery newbie — and the son of a network executive — who comes along for the ride to earn his reporting chops. Armed with only his Harvard education, which he annoyingly keeps reminding his colleagues about, he’s ill-prepared for the dangers that await him. (But he does show hilariously surprising improv skills during a meeting with a sexy informant, played by Diane Kruger of “Troy.”) Each is the same guy throughout — Simon is obsessed, Duck is bemused and Benjamin is neurotic — but they tool on each other incessantly, and it works. One scene, in which Duck rides in the back seat of the rental car playing the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” on a beat-up acoustic guitar, exemplifies their interaction perfectly.
– Christy Lemire, MSNBC/Associated Press
DON’T MISS THE HUNTING PARTY
This is a terrific, unusual film. Don’t be put off when you hear it’s about the aftermath of war in Bosnia. Our pal, producer/entrepreneur Harvey Weinstein, hasn’t lost his moxie for recognizing that American audiences will respond to films with serious international themes if they are done with panache, suspense, action and meaning. And humor. Here’s an unusual story amid rape, pillage and genocide that employs several very amusing characters. It ricochets between the horrors of war and some of the funniest scenes of wisecracking, cynical, sardonic sarcasm you’ve ever seen. And it has a number of villains, including your basic war criminal, but most especially including our old friend, the CIA. Everybody gets their lumps.
Here, a number of really good actors work between utter despair, ludicrous violence and lip-cracking laughs. A bit like Quentin Tarantino’s fluctuations in “Pulp Fiction,” but this is more realistic. The story has a gritty aspect that moves it to an almost documentary dimension. At the same time, the dialogue and an exemplary cast make it rueful and hysterically funny as sometimes happens when people are caught between despair and violence.
There is a solid performance by Richard Gere as a washed-up newsman. (Matinee idol Gere no longer cares how unattractive, petty, dirty and grungy he may come off.) But my pet pick in this mess is Terrence Howard, just great as a news cameraman who has made it big in commercial TV. He has to choose between chasing a huge story and a sexy bikini babe waiting for him in Greece. And there’s the nerd who isn’t – young news rookie Jesse Eisenberg. Plus, I always love James Brolin, who plays a stuffy, over-varnished anchorman. This actor seems to enjoy setting himself up to be made fun of. He is perfect.
Kudos to director-writer Richard Shepard. He has some Oscar-worthy stuff here, especially in his actors. And cheers again to the Weinstein brothers, who haven’t yet stopped taking chances on non-pandering cinema.
– Liz Smith, New York Post
In Richard Shepard’s wild, satirical adaptation of Scott Anderson’s Esquire article, three journalists (Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, and Jesse Eisenberg) attempt to hunt down a Bosnian war criminal. The film veers from moral outrage to goofy comedy and back to male-bonding all in seconds- and that’s all part of the fun. It’s a bracing comic antidote to this fall’s more self serious message movies.
– Logan Hill, New York Magazine
Though the idea of Richard Gere playing a mentally imbalanced, disgraced journalist in post-war Bosnia may strike some as a tedious proposition, THE HUNTING PARTY turns out to be surprisingly good. Gere plays Simon Hunt, an award-winning TV news reporter who has a Network-style breakdown after witnessing a horrific act on assignment. Five years after the war, the burned-out Hunt conceives of an outlandish scheme to capture Bosnia’s most wanted war criminal: he convinces his veteran cameraman, Duck (Terrence Howard) to join him for the ultimate scoop. What follows is a strange road trip fueled by moments of dark humor, sadness, and joy. Based on an Esquire magazine article written by Scott K. Anderson, THE HUNTING PARTY is based on Anderson’s trip to Sarajevo five years after the war. He discovered that the international community had made no effort to catch the region’s treacherous war criminals. The film replaces the article’s real team of journalists for dramatic effect, and Shepard narrows the focus to each man’s personal quest for redemption. The film successfully balances often competing tones into one cohesive storyline, resulting in a combination of drama, comedy, and adventure that has an almost amusement-park-ride feel without mocking some of its more serious themes. Director Shepard’s omission of over-the-top bloodbaths and carnage also aids in this deft balancing act. Small but impressive performances from an international supporting cast pop up throughout, most notably Nitin Ganatra as a policeman working in Sarajevo who steals scenes armed only with pinpoint comic timing and a box of Dunkin’ Donuts. The film was shot on location in Sarajevo and Croatia, and cinematographer David Tattersall’s (The Green Mile, THE MATADOR) work here, particularly the war scenes, is beautifully executed throughout and provides the film with stunning visual authenticity. And despite the somewhat weak execution of the film’s final message (that perhaps the international community is somehow complicit in war crimes), its effort to heighten audience awareness of the issues is admirable and ultimately entertaining.
– Marilyn Smith, Premiere Magazine
A TOTAL GODDAMNED BLAST
Simon (Richard Gere) and Duck (Terrence Howard) are hot-shit reporters in the hot zone, drinking and carousing their way through the graveyards of countless war-torn countries. Like all war correspondents inhabiting satirical, cynical movies about their flak-jacketed ilk, they’re having a blast, till Simon cracks up on camera during a live report from Bosnia. They go their separate ways: Duck to a cushy New York gig as cameraman, Simon to God knows where. They’re reunited in Bosnia on the fifth anniversary of reunification, and as the small talk turns to discussions of war crimes and the United Nations’ failure to bring to justice war criminals brazenly listing themselves in the phone book, Simon convinces his old pal Duck to join him on one last adventure: to find a Serbian war criminal hiding deep in the woods, where he now hunts animals instead of men. Also along for the ride is sweet, innocent Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), a network VP’s kid out to prove he’s more than just the sum of his pop’s paycheck. Like many of the best movies about war and its lingering echo, The Hunting Party is full of dark humor. Writer-director Richard Shepard, maker of 2005′s THE MATADOR, is becoming a master at finding the right tone, balancing the seriousness of his characters’ purpose with the madness of their intentions. He’s also found his style—and it’s noisy and sentimental and crude and a total goddamned blast.
– Robert Wilonsky, The Village Voice/LA Weekly
THE HUNTING PARTY is Richard Shepard’s skillfully made thriller about American journalists in Bosnia trying to find a political mass murderer. The movie is part thriller and part meditation, sort of “The Quiet American” with explosions. Terrence Howard and young Jesse Eisenberg play Richard Gere’s comrades, and all three are excellent as they search Bosnia – and narrowly escape death several times – for “The Fox,” played with chilling effectiveness by Croatian actor Ljubomir Kerekes. There are also many cameo appearances, including one by James Brolin as a Dan Rather-type network anchor. Brolin is quite good. Also popping up in THE HUNTING PARTY are Diane Kruger as a mysterious speed bump in the men’s quest, and the sizzlingly beautiful Joy Bryant as the girlfriend waiting for Howard’s character on a Greek island. Otherwise, Shepard has used more or less all local actors. The result is tremendous authenticity to the whole project. Based on an Esquire story by Scott Anderson, “The Hunting Party” is no formulaic thriller. It has plenty of humor and Shepard – who directed Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear so well in THE MATADOR – lets the story peel itself off, layer by layer, like an onion. Gere comes off beautifully once again. When you think of his career from “Dr. T and the Women” forward, it’s astonishing. He’s completely reinvented himself. Taken with “Chicago,” “The Hoax” and “Unfaithful,” this film now forms a body of work for the actor that no one would have ever guessed he’d have. Terrence Howard remains a powerful new leading man on the scene. He and Gere make a good team and seem plausible as good friends even though there’s a 20-year age difference. And Eisenberg, who was so good in “Roger Dodger” and “The Squid and the Whale,” provides subtle comic relief as a network VP’s kid who uses the Bosnian adventure to break into journalism.
– Roger Friedman, FOX News
From The Third Man onward, there’s a great tradition of film set in the aftermath of a major conflict, when bandits and opportunists seize on the peacetime chaos before the dust settles and order gets restored. Much like Three Kings, possibly its closest antecedent in terms of style and irreverent tone, Richard Shepard’s rollicking black comedy THE HUNTING PARTY follows a trio of American journalists looking to make a quick buck in a war-weary country. But they aren’t chasing loose gold, they’re after the story of a lifetime. And hey, if that happens to nab them a multimillion-dollar bounty for catching Bosnia’s most wanted war criminal, all the better. It’s absurd for them to think they can have their cake and eat it too, but the film thrives on such absurdities, ably capturing the grizzled cynicism and suicidal panache of reporters who have been embedded too long in war zones.
As a broadcast journalist gone to seed, Richard Gere trades his suave persona for a disheveled mop of gray hair and a desperate energy that’s no longer suitable for television. After spending years dodging bullets with ace cameraman Terrence Howard, Gere finally snapped in an on-air meltdown, no longer able to report dispassionately over the unchecked genocide he was witnessing in the Balkans. After losing his job, the hard-drinking Gere stayed in-country, scraping together freelance gigs to pay down an ever-growing debt; meanwhile, his buddy Howard was promoted to cushy work on a network soundstage. When the two reunite during the fifth anniversary of the war’s end, Gere suckers Howard and greenhorn reporter Jesse Eisenberg into joining him on his quest to find “The Fox,” an elusive war criminal hiding out among fierce loyalists in the mountains.
It’s a hilariously half-baked scheme, one that quickly turns them from hunters to hunted, but the strength of The Hunting Party is its shaggy-dog quality; when they finally happen across their prey, they look like they’ve been smacked around by bumpers in a pinball machine. Writer-director Shepard, who previously made the underrated buddy comedy THE MATADOR, writes tart dialogue and has an excellent feel for male bonding under duress. He has a conscience, too, but he couches it in a thick layer of irony. In the process, the film pays proper homage to real-life adventurers who have been exposed to so much human misery that they can only beat it back with dark jokes and oceans of hard liquor.
– Scott Tobias, The Onion AV Club
AN EXCITING FILM WITH AN OUTSTANDING CAST – FOUR AND A HALF STARS
Based on a true story, THE HUNTING PARTY is a bravura effort from all concerned. The movie works on a number of levels: action film, buddy movie, scathing indictment against U.S. foreign policy, etc., and moves briskly and confidently through an ugly and ultimately dark story. Nevertheless, the chemistry between Gere and Howard, not to mention the sharp, crisp writing (also by [Richard] Shepard), keeps this movie on track, never bogging down in the bleak reality of the Bosnian war, or the failed nature of the American government’s response. With any luck, this movie will get the kind of wide distribution it deserves. If the studio is smart, they’ll market this as an action movie to seduce ticket buyers unaware of the movie’s deeper import. No matter how this movie is promoted, however, it’s well worth searching out and seeing. No matter how you approach it, either as straight-out action flick or as biting political commentary, you’ll come away with more than you bargained for.
– Stefan Halley, Pop Syndicate
A FAST-PACED, SMART, AND EXCITING BLACK COMEDY
Like writer/director Richard Shepard’s previous film, the amusing THE MATADOR with Pierce Brosnan, his latest, THE HUNTING PARTY, proves he’s a talent to watch. This is a fast-paced, smart, and exciting black comedy that is a wild trip, a nifty mixture of acerbic wit and suspense that would be totally absurd if its most incredible parts didn’t happen to be true. This movie is based on Scott Anderson’s first-person article “What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” about some journalists who decide to take matters into their own hands and go after the world’s most notorious Bosnian war criminal. This film version presents its own somewhat fictionalized account of events, but much of it is still true. Of course, much of it isn’t, and its fun, honest directness in pointing out its falsehoods is what makes this a movie worth catching. The real journalists have morphed into composite characters, including a hot-wired Geraldo Rivera-type reporter (Richard Gere) who keeps getting fired but finds a way to come back for more guerrilla-style in-your-face news gathering. His longtime cameraman during the war (Terrence Howard) gets promoted to the network evening news working with their prestigious, if pompous, anchorman (James Brolin). Five years later, while covering the fifth anniversary of the war’s end, he runs into the struggling Gere back in Bosnia, and they soon find themselves cooking up a plan to go after the feared terrorist nicknamed “the Fox,” a man Gere is convinced he can catch for a “world exclusive.” Joining them is a young rookie reporter (Jesse Eisenberg) traveling with Howard who tries to prove he is more than just a network executive’s privileged son. All three actors make a great team in this lively mix of popcorn and politics.
– Pete Hammond, Maxim Magazine
THE HUNTING PARTY IS A MARVELOUS PIECE OF WORK – A-
Writer-director Richard Shepard is living proof that failing out of NYU Film School can be good for your career. THE HUNTING PARTY, Shepard’s follow-up to his darkly funny, critically acclaimed 2005 effort THE MATADOR is further evidence. A semi-true story of an ace network reporter who has an on-camera meltdown during a live feed from Bosnia during the ethnic cleansing of the 1990s, the film is what Andrew Niccol’s “Lord of War” (2005) came close to being: a blackly comical portrait of the sexiness of wholesale death and destruction. Meet Simon Hunt (Richard Gere) and intrepid cameraman Duck (Terrence Howard), a dynamic duo known for getting into the heat of war and daring it to burn them. But when Hunt goes off the reservation during that live interview with granite-faced network news anchor Franklin Harris (a terrific Dan Rather-ish turn by James Brolin), he ends up a sodden wreck covering a variety of wars for such cash-poor sponsors as Jamaica TV. Like James Woods’ character in Oliver Stone’s “Salvador,” Simon’s a war junkie drawn to all the world’s hot spots. When Duck, who was promoted by the network to a cushy, high-paying New York City job, returns in 2000 to Sarajevo with Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), a young Harvard journalism graduate who is the son of a network vice president, Simon recruits them to track down the Serb war criminal commonly known as the Fox (Ljubomir Kerekes) and bring him in for a $5 million reward.
Odd thing is: the Central Intelligence Agency claims to have been hot on the Fox’s trail for five years, while Simon and his friends almost catch up to the Fox after only two days. Based on a piece in Esquire magazine, THE HUNTING PARTY has a decidedly Eastern European flair for political humor of the blackest sort, suggesting writer-director Shepard must have also been inspired by such Balkan-war-based films as Emir Kusturica’s “Underground” and Srdjan Dragojevic’s grinning skull of a movie “Pretty Village, Pretty Flame.” Shepard also summons up such satirists as Ambrose Bierce and Joseph Heller when Duck describes “the bright side of war.” During their search, Simon, Duck and Benjamin have close encounters with a midget gangster and, later, a psychopathic Serb assassin whose ringtone is the Stylistics’ “You Make Me Feel Brand New.” Profane, irreverent and shot in the bouncy, hand-held style of Paul Greengrass (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), THE HUNTING PARTY uses the bullet-and-rocket scarred architecture of Sarajevo as its most memorable special effect. Shepard may occasionally be too clever for his own good, but on the whole THE HUNTING PARTY is a marvelous piece of work.
Gere and Howard, the odd couple of the Balkans, have terrific chemistry, and Eisenberg (“The Squid and the Whale”) may be this generation’s Dustin Hoffman. If you like tales of political intrigue set in exotic locales such as the 2005 sleeper “The Constant Gardener,” accept an invite to this PARTY.
– James Verniere, Boston Herald
GERE IS CRACKERJACK: FUNNY, FLAGRANT, FULL OF WILD LIES AND HUCKSTER CHARM – * * * OUT OF 4 STARS
It’s not easy mixing edgy satire and ethnic cleansing, the high-speed antics of a buddy picture with the grim business of torture and rape. And Richard Shepard’s THE HUNTING PARTY doesn’t always succeed in its tricky juggling act, but the balls are up there, spinning. Just having thrown them aloft is a feat. A frantic, fictionalized adaptation of Scott K. Anderson’s Esquire article about a band of journalists on the trail of a Bosnian war criminal, THE HUNTING PARTY stars Richard Gereas a veteran TV newsman and Terrence Howard as his longtime cameraman/compatriot. Like THE MATADOR, Shepard’s dark comedy about the alliance of a hit man and a salesman, THE HUNTING PARTY derives much of its tension from watching seemingly “normal” people doing seriously insane stuff. Gere, who seems to have shrugged off his actorly self-seriousness of late (see The Hoax), is crackerjack: funny, flagrant, full of wild lies and huckster charm. Howard (who also provides the voice-over narration) makes the most of what is essentially a supporting role. Jesse Eisenberg, the older kid in The Squid and the Whale, plays the wet-behind-the-ears son of a network exec. Fresh out of J-school, he now finds himself in the passenger seat of a beat-up car snaking up Balkan mountain roads, in the company of a crazed TV news legend and a smiling, guitar-strumming cameraman. In search of what? An interview with the Fox (Ljubomir Kerekes), or the millions in bounty for his capture? Throw in some business with the CIA, add a small army of Serbian thugs and a mysterious Croatian beauty, and THE HUNTING PARTY picks up speed, careening through the forests where the Fox may or may not be hiding out. Whatever fate awaits, it can’t be good. But it can be fun.
– Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer
In the frisky, quite fun THE HUNTING PARTY, a pair of former war correspondents team up to hunt down a Serbian doctor responsible for some of the worst atrocities in the Bosnian war. Writer/director Richard Shepard (THE MATADOR) has sexed their story up a bit, including changing one of their informants from a man to a beautiful woman (Diane Kruger). One of his best additions to Anderson’s story is a pipsqueak named Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg from “Roger Dodger”), a glorified news intern Duck has brought with him to help cover the fifth anniversary of the end of the Bosnian war. “You must be the son of someone important,” Simon observes (correctly) as he shakes Benjamin’s hand. It’s easy to get lost in the movie’s zingy blend of the serious and the ironic. Like Simon and Duck, it’s got a good heart and sense of fun, and the acting is consistently strong. Howard hasn’t been this at ease in a role since his career exploded with 2005′s “Hustle & Flow.” And although it’s hard to swallow the idea of Gere as ever truly being washed up – his is a guy who makes gray hair and crows feet look like an Armani suit – he brings the same kind conviction to Simon as he did to last year’s “The Hoax.” This American gigolo has really evolved.
– Mary F. Pols, Oakland Tribune
* * * * OUT OF 4 STARS
Hunt down this film at all costs! A washed up tv reporter (Richard Gere) and his ex-cameraman (Terrence Howard) team up to track down a Bosnian war criminal in this mostly true story. Sounds like depressing stuff, but the movie which deftly mixes elements of comedy, horror and tragedy, is a wildly entertaining, fun ride.
– Dan Jewel, Life and Style Magazine
COMEDY, TENSION AND HIGH POLITICAL INTRIGUE
A down-and-out television journalist, his former faithful cameraman and a greenhorn reporter taking advantage of his father’s network connections unite in an unlikely alliance to track down a wanted Serbian war criminal in THE HUNTING PARTY, a film that combines comedy, tension and high political intrigue. Richard Gere plays former star war correspondent Simon Hunt, whose live-television meltdown sends his career into dark oblivion. Six years later, in 2000, he re-appears in Bosnia, a land still smoldering from the flames of a civil war, where he meets up with Duck, his former colleague (Terrence Howard) who has gone on to the big time.
A Harvard-educated wannabe named Benjamin (winningly played by Jessie Eisenberg) joins the other two in tracking down “the Fox,” who is being hidden by his fellow countrymen. With a stubbly beard and unkempt appearance, Gere plays Hunt as an unrepentantly shady guy, who steals money for a restaurant bill – prompting the trio’s first encounter with gunfire – lies about a source and mooches a-plenty. But Gere manages to infuse the character with enough charm and idealism to make him likeable and believable. Howard is equally fine as a conflicted man who just wants to get back to his cushy life – and meet up with a hot babe awaiting him in Greece – but gets drawn into the action because of his own love of the chase. The film opens with the statement that “only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true.” Director Richard Shepard – who wrote the fictionalized script based on a real-life adventure of a group of journalists – balances the tension with a playful quality, inhabiting the film with a host of memorably crazy characters – a midget mobster, a psycho killer with a tattooed forehead and plenty of sneering, gun-toting townsfolk. As the trio set about tracking down the Fox, there’s plenty of menace and close calls, speckled with comic moments, as well as a few well-aimed digs at the UN and the CIA, both of which Shepard wants us to know in no uncertain terms, are ambivalent at best about bringing certain war criminals to justice. Politics aside, The Hunting Party is a breezy, occasionally bumpy ride that ultimately becomes a satisfying journey.
– Bruce Demara, Toronto Star
A DEFTLY ASSURED WORK – * * * OUT OF 4 STARS
A sour, disenchanted war comedy that affects a breezy style, THE HUNTING PARTY was originally called Spring Break in Bosnia. The early title captured the mood of the source material, the true story of five war correspondents who reunite in 2000 in a Sarajevo bar. Many drinks later, the quintet hatch a plan to capture indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, butcher of 7,500 Bosnian Muslims and Croats. As recalled by Scott Anderson in Esquire, the journalists grew dizzy riding a bureaucratic merry-go-round that included not-so-secretive Serbian secret police and a United Nations officer who figured that the pudgy scribblers were a Central Intelligence Agency hit squad. Anderson’s conclusion: No one, not the CIA nor the UN nor NATO, wanted Karadzic found. Of course, there is a difference between magazine stories and movies. Which is why filmmaker Richard Shepard (THE MATADOR) had the title of his war movie changed to something less glib. Moreover, five pudgy journalists have been replaced by Hollywood stars Richard Gere (his hair now white as a Q-tip) and Terrence Howard. Still, Shepard has made a movie that is as barbed and irreverent as a press-club bitch session. It is also a good deal wiser. At one point, Howard’s character, a cameraman nicknamed Duck, asks Gere’s Simon Hunt, a disgraced foreign correspondent, just why he should keep putting his own life in danger “Because putting your life in danger is actually living,” Hunt replies without enthusiasm. THE HUNTING PARTY does a good job of illustrating Winston Churchill’s observation, “There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result.” In another scene, we see the journalists in a car speeding away from a mad sniper. Out of range, finally, they are as happy as kids on the last day of school. The film is also an example of how Hollywood can improve on a story by embroidering the truth. In real life, the reporters never came close to Karadzic. THE HUNTING PARTY gives us the thrill of a chase and an ammonia whiff of danger, and so better explains a war correspondent’s addiction to chaos than Anderson’s magazine piece could. Another dramatic invention yields further dividends. Duck and Hunt have a young sidekick, a network executive’s son. Benjamin (Jessie Eisenberg) is a valuable storytelling device – an example of rank nepotism who gives his grizzled colleagues cause for comic complaint. Once befriended, the kid becomes an excuse for Gere’s and Howard’s characters to tell Benjamin (and us) their favourite war stories. Eisenberg offers a shrewd performance. We understand that two or three wars from now, he will be signing Duck and Hunt’s paycheques. Terrence Howard is also good as the film’s narrator. Happily, the star of the show is indeed the star of the show. Richard Gere, plays a kind of deranged confidence man. And his forlorn, somehow noble hustler Simon Hunt is great fun to watch. “I’m going to do what every good journalist does when he gets into a new place,” Hunt announces, striding past emaciated dogs in the direction of a rickety shed in the village of Celebici. “What’s that?” Benjamin asks. “Go to the bar.” We’re more than glad to follow. THE HUNTING PARTY is not without fault. The stars have unnecessary girlfriends, the one sop to genre filmmaking that doesn’t work. In addition, no member of the secondary cast, all treacherous bureaucratic officials, pops out at us. Nevertheless, Richard Shepard’s film is a deftly assured work that overflows with sly jokes and change-ups. The fun begins with the names of the lead characters. (Hunt and Duck would seem a good job description for war correspondents.) And the surprises continue to the closing song, a raucous version of the old Bobby Fuller Four song, I Fought the Law, performed in Serbian.
– Stephen Cole, The Globe and Mail
A FILM WORTH FIGHTING FOR – * * * 1/2 OUT OF 4 STARS
A dark comedy about war, this film takes surprising comedic twists mixed with moments of sheer terror. Based on a true story, the film cleverly plunges viewers into the aftermath of an already forgotten conflict. Gere is brilliantly nervy as the thically challenged war reporter who’s got a score to settle in the backwoods of Eastern Europe. And there’s also terriific performances from Terrence Howard and Jesse Eisenberg.
– Marshall Fine, The Star Magazine
A STIMULATING, RELEVANT ACTION SATIRE
Genocide and comedy don’t mix well, and THE HUNTING PARTY, written and directed by Richard Shepard, can sometimes be queasy-going as its buddy protagonists banter and romp their way through shell-shocked Bosnia. The film also suffers from a cheap plot turn and a dearth of profundity. Yet Shepard is no dullard or dimwit, and the colorful bits of action, politics and zany camaraderie add up. Consider this movie a captivating jumble. Based, rather loosely, on an Esquire article, the film stars Richard Gere as danger-loving reporter Simon Hunt and Terrence Howard as strait-laced cameraman Duck – a dynamite war-zone team until Simon, in a ravaged Bosnian town, crumbles on live TV. The meltdown lands Simon in freelance obscurity. Duck gets a comfy studio gig. Several years later, the pair reunite in Sarajevo, and a wearier but still-crazy Simon convinces Duck to join him on a journey to the scoop of a lifetime: a meeting with a notorious war criminal (Ljubomir Kerekes) hiding in the mountains. Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), a network VP’s fresh-out-of-Harvard son, accompanies them on the treacherous mission.
Misadventures occur, of course. A U.N. operative (Mark Ivanir) mistakes the trio for CIA agents, and the guys perpetuate the misunderstanding, for starters But Shepard still hits more than it misses. Flawed but never boring, the movie’s a stimulating, relevant action satire. The manhunt scenes have vim, and Shepard generally pulls off his nuttier material. And while the comedy clashes with the grimmer stuff, it doesn’t, thankfully, obscure it. War-scarred landscapes underscore the tragedy of the Balkan setting. Shepard’s suggestion that governments, for political reasons, have allowed war criminals to remain unapprehended, is surely noteworthy. Jabs at the CIA and U.S. media – represented, respectively, by Dylan Baker and James Brolin (as a pompous anchorman) in small roles – contain spark. THE HUNTING PARTY contains enough sterling moments to qualify as ticket-worthy and memorable.
– Anita Katz, San Francisco Examiner
GET THIS PARTY STARTED
Writer/director Richard Shepard walks close to the cliff in THE HUNTING PARTY, a smirking drama about a very serious subject: tracking down war criminals in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina. Shepard, best-known for the Ugly Betty pilot and the comedy-thriller THE MATADOR, brings a similar lighthearted approach to this story, and the shifting tones occasionally rob it of the gravity it deserves. But Shepard is saved from falling completely into incredulity by his cast, especially Richard Gere as burnt-out television foreign correspondent Simon Hunt- think Anderson Cooper with more years and more attitude but the same amount of gray hair -who believes he’s found the lair of “the Fox”, the nickname for Bosnia’s most wanted war criminal, Gere throws himself into the role of the freewheeling Hunt with relish, pulling off one of his best performances, and he’s ably supported by the always reliable Howard (whose Duck provides the voice of reason) and Eisenberg (whose nerd-to-man Benjamin seems designed to appeal to anyone in the audience under 30). Conversely, there are some very authentic faces in supporting roles, such as Croatian Ljubomir Kerekes as the Fox and Israeli-born actor Mark Ivanir, who’s memorable as is-he-friend-or-foe local policeman Boris. Shot in Sarajevo and the surrounding area, THE HUNTING PARTY is gorgeous to look at (thanks to cinematographer David Tattersall), and there are moments when the humor works (as when one of the bad guy’s ring tones is the old Stylistics’ R&B classic, You Make Me Feel Brand New). But it’s obvious Shepard has serious issues on his mind. It’s hard not to draw a parallel between the hunt for the Fox and the one for Osama bin Laden, a parallel Shepard makes plain in the closing credits. And if he’s going to go there, it might have been better to have the Bosnian Muslims in the story be more than just quickly glimpsed victims. Still, for all its flaws, THE HUNTING PARTY never drags and is more entertaining than it has a right to be.
– Cary Darling, Star Telegram
AS FAR AS SMART, FUNNY, THRILLERS GO, THE HUNTING PARTY IS ABOUT AS GOOD AS IT GETS – 4 OUT OF 5 STARS
The release of Richard Shepard’s THE HUNTING PARTY couldn’t be timelier. The film revolves around a down and out war journalist (Richard Gere) who coerces his former cameraman (Terrence Howard) to help track down the most infamous war criminal in Eastern Europe (“The Fox”). Allegedly, The Fox is being pursued by the CIA, FBI, and just about everyone in between. Additionally, it seems that most people know where this criminal resides, yet he still remains free. Hmmm…does this sound vaguely familiar? Writer/director Richard Shepard’s effort has more than a few elements that are consistent with what he showed us in the darkly comedic THE MATADOR. Richard Gere’s Simon is a washed up, sauced up journalist who leads a marginalized existence (not unlike Pierce Brosnan’s washed up, cynical character in THE MATADOR), and Shepard’s attitude towards life (and death) is flippant and cavalier as was the case in his first film. Shepard’s writing and directing sensibilities are well suited for a film like The Hunting Party which is unquestionably a cynical (and hysterical) story of how three determined journalists looking for the scoop of the century end up being mistaken for bounty hunters. But, THE HUNTING PARTY would not be nearly the film that it is were it not for the cast Shepard managed to score for this film. Gere is fantastic as the jaded, semi-drunk (and stoned) war journalist. Formerly acclaimed and respected, Simon’s on air blow up has led him to doing contract jobs with tiny stations in Jamaica. Gere plays Simon with a wonderful amalgamation of desperation and charm. Terence Howard is solid as Simon’s former cameraman, Duck, who is duped by Simon into tagging along with him in tracking down the nefarious war criminal known as “The Fox.” Duck’s career has gone in a decidedly more positive direction since he and Simon parted ways, but Duck’s a sucker for a great story and Simon’s sold him a good one. Rounding out the cast (and stealing a number of scenes) is the neophyte journalist Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg) whose blind ambition and naïve passion puts him in more than a fair share of compromising positions. Eisenberg conveys plenty with a simple wide eyed, open mouthed gaze. Benjamin quickly learns what “real” journalism is all about. With any luck, he’ll live to tell. Richard Shepard has once again crafted a film that has all the right elements. The characters in THE HUNTING PARTY are multidimensional, engaging, and despite their flaws (or perhaps in spite of) they are endearing on some level. Shepard’s gift as a writer comes across in the tight pacing of the movie from start to finish. There is never a dull moment in the film and Shepard raises all kinds of interesting questions for conspiracy theorists to ponder. As far as smart, funny, thrillers go, THE HUNTING PARTY is about as good as it gets.
– Matt Forsman, SF Station
YOU’LL LEAVE LAUGHING
An inspired-by-fact thriller shot through with absurdist moments, THE HUNTING PARTY is a close cousin to David O. Russell’s Desert Storm satire Three Kings. That’s pretty good company. This latest effort from writer-director Richard Shepard (THE MATADOR) stars Richard Gere as a desperate, burned-out TV war correspondent and Terrence Howard as one of his oldest friends, a combat cameraman who always comes back with the perfect shot. As we learn in the opening flashback sequence narrated by Duck (Howard), Simon Hunt (Gere) is a journalism legend for both the right and wrong reasons. Fearless and perhaps a bit crazy (“Being close to death is completely addictive,” Duck reports), he routinely risked his neck (and Duck’s) to be in the heat of the action in hot spots worldwide. But the atrocities he witnessed in the Bosnian war pushed Simon over the edge. After an on-air meltdown, he found himself begging free-lance gigs for Portuguese television. Then he dropped off the map.
Many years later, Duck has returned to Sarajevo, accompanying the network’s anchorman (James Brolin) to a special ceremony. A grizzled and slightly manic Simon appears out of nowhere, assuring his old colleague that he knows the whereabouts of “the Fox,” a Serbian war criminal on whose head the United States has a $5 million reward. All this is presented in a straightforward, realistic manner. The flashbacks to the era of ethnic cleansing are brutal and disturbing. But every now and then, something so bizarre occurs that THE HUNTING PARTY veers into the comically surreal. Incredibly, these things were actually experienced by the real-life journalists on whose misadventures the movie is based. Be sure to stick around for the final credits. Over a Serbian-language version of I Fought the Law, the filmmakers give a quick breakdown of what things in the film are factual and which were altered for dramatic purposes (there were originally four journalists, not three; the black-market informer was a man, not a woman.) The performances are solid, the settings authentic (filmed in the former Yugoslavia), and the film’s vein of bleak humor refreshing. You’ll leave laughing — and possibly angry.
– Robert Butler, Columbus Dispatch
A HELTER-SKELTER ROAD TRIP WITH LOTS OF EDGE AND A SENSE OF HUMOR
THE HUNTING PARTY is a surreal, creepy thriller. Is it the story, or the rush? Could they be one and the same? Loosely based on actual events, writer-director Richard Shepard’s engrossing THE HUNTING PARTY examines a complex of issues: the aftermath of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, the bureaucratic ineptitude of the United Nations, the complicity of the West, the mind-set of unrepentant war criminals and, most pointedly, the exploits of reporters addicted to the adrenalin of war-zone coverage. Shepard has used the real journalists’ experiences largely as a launching pad for something other than a straight drama or factual account. What he’s produced is a helter-skelter road trip with lots of edge and a sense of humor, even amid some ghastly carnage. Shot in 42 days on location in Bosnia and Croatia, THE HUNTING PARTY also benefits from solid support from Diane Kruger, Dylan Baker and especially Mark Ivanir as a UN operative who has been reading too many cloak-and-dagger novels. Shepard & Co. put you on site, vividly. And if they take liberties with what happened, THE HUNTING PARTY still captures the foreboding, the frustration, the out and out creepiness of what those involved experienced on the ground.
– Bill Thompson, Post and Courier
GERE ADDS ANOTHER GREAT, LATE-CAREER PERFORMANCE
They carry TV cameras and notebooks, not guns, and they’re on nobody’s most-wanted list. But when the bad guys with guns come out, the foreign correspondents run towards them, not away. And when the gunfire starts, they stay there until they get the story. And that’s courage. Of course other things go into that determination, too — ambition, adrenaline and just plain thick-headedness — and the new movie, THE HUNTING PARTY, doesn’t shy away from it. Richard Shepard knows, not every good deed springs from noble purposes, or is accomplished by noble people. Gere’s reporter is a liar, a drunk and a bit of a scoundrel. He is nobody’s idea of a great man. Just a great journalist. Shepard himself isn’t a journalist, or a spy; he’s just a filmmaker, who hit unexpectedly with THE MATADOR two years ago, and sometimes he just misses on the small things. The beginning and end of this inspired-by-a-true-story film feel a little rushed, as if scenes were cut; the spy stuff is overdone (with too many mysterious eavesdroppers, and a musical score that sometimes feels borrowed from a late-’70s Bond movie). He also, more than once, mistakes being cynical (a journalist’s prerogative) with being flip (a Hollywood failing). Better is what THE HUNTING PARTY continually gets right — the boozy camaraderie, the fight-or-flight decisions, the never-ending hunt for new information. Going happily grungy, Gere adds another great, late-career performance as a newsman still unwilling to sign off. And Howard brings grace and passion (and, in flashbacks, some neat hairweaves) to the role of his last, loyal friend. Although sometimes Shepard’s sardonicism slips into silly caricature, the film — with its mix of brief flashbacks and action scenes — is carefully directed throughout. James Brolin, square and stiffly smiling, has a good small part as a network anchor; an interrogation scene in a Serbian barn may have you wondering how made-up Hostel really was. (If you have any other questions about the movie’s verisimilitude, be sure to stay through the final credits, which wittily testify to some of the story’s most outlandish details). Interestingly, although Gere and Howard’s characters are invented, they feel the truest of all. They are often more foolhardy than courageous, less brave than simply stubborn. They are not real heroes, in the classic sense. But they are simply real. And in a week dominated by Russell Crowe’s elegant gunslinger, and Clive Owen’s acrobatic killing machine, that makes them stand out all the more.
– Stephen Whitty, Newark Star Ledger
BRISTLING WITH SARCASM
Journalism isn’t the most photogenic profession in the world, and not because journalists aren’t the most photogenic professionals in the world. That is not an insurmountable hurdle at the movies, not when a young Robert Redford or an old Richard Gere is in the wings, wavy hair at the ready, waiting to make us look good. It’s the process of journalism that isn’t always pretty: reporting, note-taking, swearing at the keyboard whenever the “A” sticks. Television journalists have a leg up on print reporters, being a handsomer subspecies with larger gizmos, but even they have to sit down and write at some point. And who wants to watch that for two hours? Memorable films about journalists and journalism therefore have little to do with the harshest realities of the field – namely, deadlines – and everything to do with the harshest realities of storytelling. Such is the case with THE HUNTING PARTY, a snarky and engaging hero’s saga about a washed-up freelance TV reporter (Gere) in Bosnia Herzegovina who sniffs out the wooded hiding place of a Serbian war criminal nicknamed The Fox (Ljubomir Kerekes) and risks everything in hot pursuit of an exclusive. Written and directed by Richard Shepard (THE MATADOR, another study in engaging snark), opens with a tantalizing promise: “Only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true.” It then pushes ahead with a seriocomic plot that doesn’t blaze new trails, exactly – it follows one bumpy mountain road to its climax – but it does make room for the latest, loose-screw character part in the reinvention of Gere’s career. Geopolitics play a sizeable role here, sometimes as tragedian, sometimes farceur. The United Nations does not come off well, though Mark Ivanir (as a bumbling but decent Bulgarian peacekeeper) does. Shepard channels much of his energy and his anger into a single, cruel irony: That years after the war ended, some of its deadliest perpetrators haven’t been brought to justice. In a country the size of Kentucky, they haven’t even been found. THE HUNTING PARTY doesn’t aim to make sense of this fact; it aims to make a point and sharpen it, bristling with sarcasm. An old yellow Benz trundles ahead, past Olympic ski jumps and glowering locals as Simon, Ducky and a green network scion (Jesse Eisenberg) trade quips and escalating life-or-death anxieties. At various points en route they’re mistaken for CIA and threatened with death by assorted oddball sleazeballs, and I found myself – unaccountably – spotting parallels with the old Peter Falk version of The In-Laws. “Whatever you do, don’t stare at the midget!” might have been Falk’s line, but it’s Gere’s, and it’s a fine piece of dialogue indeed. Dylan Baker, as a shirt-stuffed CIA honcho, looks out of place in this eccentric universe. So does the movie’s quietly shocking conclusion, which reminded me uncomfortably of The Brave One’s – and made me wonder where this bunch learned their trade. “Don’t believe everything you hear in journalism school,” Simon says, but by then it’s clear they aren’t journalists. They’re members of a hunting party, and it’s the chase that counts.
– Amy Biancolli, Houston Chronicle
HIGHLY ENTERTAINING AND THOUGHT-PROVOKING – 4 OUT OF 5 STARS
Screenwriter-director Richard Shepard does the same thing with crazy war correspondents in his highly entertaining and thought-provoking new film, THE HUNTING PARTY, that he did with burnt-out hitmen in 2005′s THE MATADOR. The main difference this time is the much more sensitive subject matter, given the dark comedy-drama-adventure is set against the backdrop of the Bosnian war and is based on events immortalized in an Esquire article by veteran war journalist Scott Anderson. All you need to know about The Hunting Party is the film’s opening disclaimer: “Only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true.” Richard Gere, who seems to be hitting his stride as an actor in his later years, perfectly captures the nothing-to-lose spirit of a danger-obsessed, adrenaline-junkie, pill-popping newshound named Simon Hunt, the reporter of a seemingly fearless two-man TV network news team that includes the somewhat saner cameraman Duck, portrayed by the equally compelling Terrence Howard. “Simon gave me balls I never knew I had. Of course, I got shot four times and Simon never got so much as a scratch,” says Duck in voice-over. But when Hunt has an on-air meltdown on live network TV after a particularly nasty assault on a Bosnian village, he is promptly fired and eventually disappears from the mainstream, reporting as a freelancer for third and fourth-rate TV outlets from various war zones while Duck is promoted to a cushier in-house camera job in New York City. Five years later the two men meet up in Sarajevo for the fifth anniversary of the end of the war with Duck babysitting Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg from The Squid and the Whale), a Harvard-educated journalism graduate who also happens to be the son of the network’s vice president. Hunt has the insane idea that they should try to find Bosnia’s most notorious war criminal, “The Fox,” for both an exclusive interview and the $5-million reward for his capture. It’s a bit like making Osama bin Laden your target if you were an Iraq correspondent. But this being a movie, Duck blows off his gorgeous girlfriend (Joy Bryant) who is supposed to meet him for a three-week vacation in Greece and signs on with his old pal for their most dangerous assignment yet with the rookie Benjamin in tow. It is the three actors’ chemistry and their wild adventures through the totally gorgeous if slightly sinister Bosnian countryside that keep the film moving at a brisk pace. But never once does Shepard let the viewer forget the rape and slaughter of thousands of Muslims during the Bosnian war. The trio are shot at and repeatedly threatened but always seem to keep their eye on the main prize. “It’s only when you put your life in danger that you are truly living. You need me to remind you of that,” Hunt tells Duck after one particularly close call with mortality. Naturally the unlikely threesome are mistaken for CIA operatives because no one believes they’re actually journalists and Gere’s tactics as one ring true as they move from village to village looking for “The Fox.” “I’m going to do what any good journalist does when he gets to a new place — I’m going to find a bar,” Hunt says. Also memorable in smaller roles are a black-hair-laquered James Brolin as a Sam Donaldson-type news anchor, Diane Kruger as a street-tough black marketer in Sarajevo and Dylan Baker as a cold-hearted CIA boss.
– Jane Stevenson, Toronto Sun
THE HUNTING PARTY – AN ACID-DRIPPED COMEDY
As works like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H have long noted, sometimes the only response to the horrors of war is to laugh at the insanity of it all. Similar laughter past the graveyard is evoked by THE HUNTING PARTY, an acid-dripped comedy set in the hellishness of the former Yugoslavia. Duck (played by Terrence Howard) used to be the best TV cameraman in any war zone, partnered with the best reporter, Simon (Richard Gere). Their partnership, which survived through many adventures, fell apart in Bosnia in 1994 when Simon had an on-air meltdown. Fast-forward to 2000, on the fifth anniversary of the peace agreement that stopped the fighting in Bosnia. Duck returns with his boss, the network news anchor (James Brolin, a perfect study of pomposity), for the anniversary ceremony and is reunited with Simon, who now hustles news coverage for whatever country’s TV network will pay him. But Simon has a plan. Simon says he knows the whereabouts of “The Fox,” a Bosnian war criminal that the U.S., NATO, the U.N. and any other acronym you can think of can’t find, even with a $5 million bounty on his head. Simon persuades Duck to join him to find the Fox, and they get a third wheel in Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), a rich-kid network employee fresh out of journalism school (where he studied Simon’s on-air collapse). What follows is a series of high-risk but oddly comical misadventures – most of which, the movie assures us, are completely true. But writer-director Richard Shepard’s humor is tempered by a deadly serious undercurrent, as Duck sees how Simon has lost his journalistic zeal and we see why. Shepard (THE MATADOR) bombards us with information and offbeat characters to leave the audience as discombobulated as the characters. The peak of his rapid-fire absurdity is in the closing credits, as he goes back to show various side characters (including the real-life journalists, who appear in an early bar scene) with the on-screen label “really existed,” proving once again that some stuff is just too strange to be made up.
– Sean P. Means, Salt Lake Tribune
“Only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true,” we are informed as this satire that’s not really a satire opens. Richard Gere’s beat-up but upbeat washed-up war correspondent and his former cameraman, the itching-for-adventure Terrence Howard embark on a hunt in present-day Bosnia for the world’s most-wanted criminal, a (semifictional) monster responsible for the 90s horrors of Sarajevo. Whether they find him or not is beside the point: the point of this bitterly funny pill of a flick is that the CIA, the Hague, NATO, the UN, everyone’s who’s supposed to be looking for this guy… they’re all a buncha criminals themselves with agendas that have little to do with keeping the world safe. But this laugh-till-you-cry diatribe — which just happens to be wrapped around a wickedly entertaining and randomly horrifying road-trip trope — isn’t actually about Osama Bin Laden, not at all; not at all. Gere is on as the conscientious, sensitive voice tired of corporate media bullshit that denies hard realities in exchange for sound bites; writer-director Richard Shepard, who gave us 2005′s underappreciated THE MATADOR, knows how to distill the ironies of 21st century realpolitik into rousing cinema. It’s enough to make you believe someone really does care about something these days.
– Mary Ann Johnson, Flick Filospher
Since World War II spawned its share of war-themed movies, both direct and indirect, it’s only natural that our era does the same, especially given that the Iraq War has gone on for several years now. A lot of movies over the past four or five years have dealt with the attacks in New York, soldiers in war, prisoners of war, and endless variations on these and other themes. Most movies tackle their subject head-on. How refreshing, then, to see a movie like Richard Shepard’s THE HUNTING PARTY which has on its mind the topic of war criminals still at large. It wants to know why the U.S. has been unable to find certain outlaws, when just about any civilian with a passport, the price of a drink and a line of B.S. can do it. But instead of grousing or hand wringing, it becomes a spry, surprising and intelligent comedy. The movie is told through the point of view of a TV news cameraman nicknamed Duck (Terrence Howard), who once worked together with reporter Simon Hunt (Richard Gere) in any Third World war zone worth covering. Their lives together were dangerous and exciting. They dodged explosions, drank in dive bars and romanced local girls. But when the tragedy got to be too much for Simon, he melted down on the air, effectively ending the relationship. Duck has since been promoted to a highly paid New York studio job, while Simon works for increasingly desperate TV stations so far off the radar that he eventually disappears. For the five-year anniversary of the end of the war in Bosnia, Duck, a polished TV anchorman (a perfectly cast James Brolin) and a network executive’s son, Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), arrive to cover a routine press conference. Simon is also there, and he convinces Duck to help him cover the story of the decade: finding an infamous war criminal known as The Fox (Ljumomir Kerekes) with a $5 million bounty on his head. From there, writer/director Shepard takes his characters on a real ride, juxtaposing the prefab press conference with seat-of-your-pants journalism, which involves sniffing out leads, blundering into fresh information and a lot of drinking. As with his lively, highly enjoyable 2005 film THE MATADOR, Shepard has a gift for exciting suspense, which then gives rise to intelligent humor. In a lesser film, creating humor out of tension can often result in a sickly, dreadful feeling, but Shepard’s films employ anticipation rather than dread. The unexpected usually happens; in one sequence, our trio stops for lunch at a roadside café and a waiter overhears their conversation about The Fox. When they leave, the waiter fires a few bullets at their car, but — it turns out — not because of The Fox. He’s shooting because the perpetually broke Simon has stolen the money from the table. The scene starts out tense, but turns into humor. This sense of the unpredictable runs right up until the film’s end; it’s impossible to guess the fate of The Fox at the hands of our three adventurers. Of course, THE HUNTING PARTY is based on many real people and events, but Shepard avoids the usual reverential treatment. Most “true stories” get so bogged down in research and in paying proper, respectful homage to the real people that they forget to actually make a movie. Shepard refuses to buckle under and become a slave to such things. He has been truly inspired by the lunacy of the real events and runs with them, making them the crazy centerpiece of the movie and providing a fictional cushion around them. (The movie’s opening line is “only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true,” and the end credits go on to explain just what he means by that.) As for the movie’s heart, Shepard has once again succeeded by finding an unlikely duo for his male bonding story. In THE MATADOR, hired killer Pierce Brosnan and businessman Greg Kinnear connected on a level more organic than the usual romantic comedy formula in which one partner “fixes” the other. The same happens here with Gere and Howard; Shepard makes their history together a palpable thing. Duck doesn’t just act out of guilt or the promise of a great story. He acts because he truly feels friendship toward his old partner. Gere brings a great deal of energy to his role, and his enthusiasm for the story is infectious. The Benjamin character — the equivalent to Hope Davis’ “Bean” character in THE MATADOR — is an ingenious addition as well. He’s Ivy League educated, but also smart enough to know that his book learning may not apply to the real world. Moreover, having this amateur around allows Duck and Simon to explain their history and business to the audience without sounding like gratuitous exposition. Finally, Shepard actually hauled his entire cast and crew to Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina for that final touch, an authentic, war-torn backdrop to his rich, detailed characters and situations. The entire package has a genuine personality, and a playful one at that, something entirely too rare in movies. And when it comes time for Shepard to ask his question about war and war criminals, he includes it with the regular flow of the movie; it’s not tacked on, and it doesn’t change the movie’s tone. He’s not angry, or even exasperated, and he’s not out to teach or preach. He sees the absurdity of the entire situation and invites us to see it too.
– Jeffrey Anderson, Cinematical
A ROCK’EM SOCK’EM WAR COMEDY
In 2005, Richard Shepard directed something unconventional. THE MATADOR. It’s a black comedy that, if you were to explain the premise to someone, it would seem like the start of a bad joke: A hitman and a salesman walk into a bar… Pierce Brosnan delivered a stunning performance as Julian Noble – his best ever – that’s full of quotable lines. Two years after Brosnan’s comeback special, Richard Gere is undergoing a similar change. Several months ago he starred as Clifford Irving in The Hoax, the based-on-a-true-story-would-we-lie-to-you? drama about an author who touts his (bogus) biography of Howard Hughes as the greatest literary achievement of the twentieth century. The Lasse Hallstrom picture got him attention; Shepard’s THE HUNTING PARTY will likely follow suit. Richard Gere is Simon Hunt, a TV news correspondent who, after years of covering the atrocities in war torn nations around the globe, reaches his breaking point; during one stand-up on location he snaps, losing his composure for the entire world to see. There to witness Simon’s self-destruction firsthand is the man who filmed it, his cameraman Duck (Terrence Howard). Duck is such a fitting name – the film opens and both he and Simon are bobbing and weaving through hails of gunfire, bomb blasts, and other destructive means. Even as things are exploding they manage to take everything in stride, making jokes about the coverage and about where to photograph. This is Richard Shepard bringing levity to a serious situation, while giving us a different perspective on the subject of war. Five years after the tirade, Simon is still a man without a network affiliate. He keeps reporting though, hoping that one network out there will purchase his news packages for airing. Such a hard fall he has taken. Simon remains a drunken malcontent, and a reckless one at that. This is familiar territory for Shepard, as both THE HUNTING PARTY and THE MATADOR explore themes about men who have a feeling of detachment. For Brosnan’s character it was about growing old and losing that killer instinct. For Gere, having someone close to him perish at the hands of a war criminal was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and the reason for his on-air meltdown. His catharsis is revenge. He wants to capture “The Fox” (Ljubomir Kerekes), one of the most notorious war criminals in Bosnia and Herzegovina who has killed thousands of Muslims, including the woman he loved. Whereas Gere’s newsman has the drive and determination unlike Brosnan’s hitman, he still needs some help. Knowing the location of The Fox he enlists his old pal Duck to be his cameraman in an attempt to revive his struggling career. Or so he leads to believe. Duck is reluctant to the idea at first but agrees. (The ebony and ivory version of the “Wild and Crazy Guys” together again.) Completing this triumvirate is Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg). He’s a twitchy Harvard journalism grad – the son of the VP of Simon’s old network – who has come to Bosnia with Duck to work on his reporting skills. On looks and appearance, and maybe even mental capacity, there’s no way this team should have clicked. Richard Gere’s the heavy, Howard’s the base – the witness and narrator to the story – and Eisenberg is the neurotic guy. The makeshift team plays off each other beautifully, and in one scene Harvard Boy outshines both Howard and Gere. They meet with an informant, a sexy female (played by Diane Kruger), and it is “twitchy” and his ad-libbing that steals it. Trust in Shepard, his words and vision. His loud, rock’em sock’em war comedy has action, thrills and leans to the satirical side. The script could have used a small re-write, as the ending comes abruptly and some of the exposition isn’t as strong. Still, this is definitely a film that’s meant to be a wake-up call. In today’s climate where presumably the most wanted person on the planet is a man with the initials OBL, THE HUNTING PARTY is subtle, while also funny and engaging, in its attempts of making you question the motives of international leadership. And how many funny, ironical based-on-a-true-story stories can claim that?
ONE OF THE MOST UNUSUAL FILMS OF THE YEAR
THE HUNTING PARTY is an incredibly ambitious mix of comedy, action, and intense drama that tells a mostly true story of post-war Bosnia. Journalism is a dirty business, and war journalism can be a deadly one. That’s the world that Richard Shepard, director of movies like THE MATADOR, explores in his challenging new film THE HUNTING PARTY. The movie can be frustrating at times but it sticks with you more than most other movies this season and should gain a respectable following just for the sheer audacity of its subject matter. You don’t see many movies about journalists trying to hunt down Bosnian war criminals, especially funny ones. THE HUNTING PARTY is an incredibly ambitious mix of comedy, action, and intense drama that tells a mostly true story of post-war Bosnia. Ethan Hunt (Richard Gere) was once the best war journalist in the world but has been ruined after a very public, on-air meltdown during the genocide in Bosnia in the ’90s. Years later, the UN is allegedly trying to track down the war criminals responsible for the rapes and murders of thousands, but they’re not having much luck and not really trying all that hard. Hunt reunites with his cameraman and friend Doug (Terrence Howard), who happens to be dragging along a new journalist (Jesse Eisenberg), and the unlikely trio head off into the mountains of Serbia in search of The Fox, the most legendary war criminal of the era. As the title card at the beginning says, “only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true.” There are plenty of ridiculous parts, believe us. Villains with tattoos on their foreheads, a midget grabbing Hunt’s package because he owes him money, a bizarre cameo by Diane Kruger, THE HUNTING PARTY is one of the most unusual films you’ll see this year. It’s a high-wire act of tones, switching wildly from comedy to life-and-death situations, and it can be off-putting at first, until you think about the characters the film details. War journalists, by their very nature, must be willing to switch tones on a dime. As combat correspondents, it’s totally plausible that Ethan and Doug might be joking about the local girls they’re sleeping with one minute and dodging sniper fire the next. It could be argued that the drastic tone shifts in THE HUNTING PARTY actually fits its subject matter pretty well. Well…almost. There are attempts at some fairly intense emotional beats in The Hunting Party that would seem much more at home – and be much more affecting – in a production that took itself a little more seriously. At times, it feels like Shepard is winking at the camera, making such a slick film that it demands you to not take it too seriously, even if part of you wants to. Not to be a buzzkill, but Bosnia war atrocities are serious subject matter. You get the feeling that Shepard really, really doesn’t want THE HUNTING PARTY to be found in the drama section of your favorite online DVD store and almost pushes against the natural emotions of the piece because of it. That deflates some of the most dramatic scenes in the film, keeping it from true greatness. Even though this Party doesn’t achieve greatness, it does come pretty darn close. Gere delivers such a strong performance, one that he won’t get nearly enough credit for, that it stands as one of the most complicated on his resume, and Howard gives his best performance since Hustle & Flow. The film’s mostly about Howard’s sharacter and how he learns what’s really important through the tragic experiences he covers, both in war and in friendship. Howard never hits a false note. Shepard continues to be a director to watch, making two strong films in a row, both of which, admirably, were a little left-of-center from what viewers normally expect. Hopefully, The Hunting Party will find the success it needs to keep Shepard making off-center movies because Hollywood doesn’t always reward hard-to-categorize films like this one. Journalism may be a dirty business, but it’s squeaky clean compared to the business that we call “show.”
– Brian Tallerico, UGO.com
NEARLY PERFECT TOUCHES OF HUMANITY, HUMOR, HONESTY AND DIGNITY – GRADE: A-
The question isn’t “Does Richard Gere warrant an Oscar nomination in 2007?” The question is “Has Richard Gere potentially cancelled himself out for an Oscar nomination in 2007 with two stellar, award-worthy performances in The Hoax and THE HUNTING PARTY, respectively?” It will be a sad year for Oscar, indeed, should the award season pass without recognition for Gere, seemingly at the top of his game this year, with two outstanding performances in diverse, yet equally demanding roles in two of 2007′s indie darlings. A joint distribution from The Weinstein Company and MGM, it will be interesting to see how the studios manage to market THE HUNTING PARTY, a film that beautifully blends social commentary with dark comedy and just enough humanity to actually make one give a damn about the characters. Much as he did in this year’s The Hoax, Gere manages to take a character who is, undoubtedly, self-absorbed on a certain level and turn him into a character with a surprising degree of vulnerability in the midst of all that ego-driven bravura. So many actors would have been content to lazily make Simon’s drive to find “The Fox” about his desire to get back into the big leagues, but Gere takes Shepard’s wonderful script and paints a wonderful portrait of a man whose drive to find the elusive war criminal is equal parts passion and professionalism. I’ve said this once before in 2007, but I’ll say it again…Gere gives a career performance as Simon, and his perfect chemistry with Howard also manages to turn THE HUNTING PARTY into one of the few buddy flicks to actually work this year. While Howard’s “Duck” (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself) is a tad underwritten, Howard does a magnificent job of filling in the missing pieces and adding a wealth of humanity to what could have easily been the typical “best friend” role. Likewise, Eisenberg, fills out the threesome nicely as the spoiled young rich kid just trying to prove he really belongs. THE HUNTING PARTY is beautifully shot on location, a fact that affords the film an atmospheric quality that makes the dramatic moments a bit more uncomfortable and the darkly comic moments, which are abundant, just a touch more dark. In the midst of such great tragedy, Shepard wisely finds his comic moments within the context of the experiences, an approach that feels more authentic and less jarring given the dramatic circumstances. As someone who worked in emergency room crisis intervention for 10 years, I can assure you that some of humanity’s darkest moments are also our funniest. This fact isn’t lost on Shepard, as he writes and directs the film with nearly perfect touches of humanity, humor, honesty and dignity. Shepard based the screenplay for THE HUNTING PARTY on a real life incident, though THE HUNTING PARTY admittedly contains major changes to the evolution of the story. While the war flashback scenes are a touch less convincing and carry a much heavier tone than the majority of the film, they do also help to drive home that “The Hunting Party” isn’t just about the laughs. Kudos for David Tattersall’s stellar camera work, along with Jan Roelfs’ authentic production design. Now that Gere has tracked down “The Fox,” the hunt for Oscar begins!
– Richard Propes, The Peaceful Critic