I’m immediately wary of movies that try to tackle lesser known historical subjects because the temptation to tweak the story for the benefit of the movie is just too great. Take for example the horrific Tony Curtis biopic of the life of Harry Houdini. His is a life that was destined to be a movie. His story writes itself. He spends his whole life wowing people with his ability to defy death and he ends up dying after a simple punch in the stomach, but that wasn’t good enough for the director. He has to off him in the Chinese Water Torture trick because getting goosed in the gut by a college twerp wasn’t big enough.
Unlike the life of Houdini, screenwriter and director Richard Shepard knows all too well the story he is retelling in The Hunting Party would be impossible to tell as a coherent story on the screen, although the story written by journalist Scott Anderson about five freelancers who decide to hunt down, Radovan Karadži?, an “elusive” psychopath who orchestrated the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnia people.
He uses this unfortunate fact to his advantage to make a very entertaining, varied and powerful film.
Richard Gere plays the fictional Scott Hunt, a down on his luck foreign correspondent who after an on-air meltdown while covering the Bosnian civil war skips from country to country to scrape together whatever work he can find. Before his meltdown, he toured with his story hungry cameraman Duck, played by Terrance Howard, who makes it to the big time after Hunt gets cut from the major network’s payroll list.
After the dust of the war has settled and peace returns to the region, Duck returns to his old stomping grounds in Bosnia to cover the treaty ceremonies and kick back a few brandies with his old tape chasers along with the network brass’s son Benjamin, played by Jesse Eisenberg, when Hunt sneaks back into his life. Well, back in his hotel room to be exact.
Hunt tells Duck he has a tip that could give him the story that would put him back on top. He knows the whereabouts of the Fox, an elusive war criminal, based loosely on Radovan Karadži?, who has managed to shake the CIA, the UN and just about every international police agency on the planet. The plan is to hunt him down, interview him and maybe even kill him for the $5 million bounty the U.S. government placed on his head.
Everyone involved gives a marvelous performance. Howard seems a little too laid back as Duck but since he’s supposed to be the wiser of the three, it’s appropriate for the part. Gere does a good job as the out of control journalist nothing left to lose, but surprisingly, Eisenberg easily shines the most as a greenhorn reporter who desperately wants to prove his worth anyway he can, even if he thinks his life is in the hands of a man who loves putting his own in constant danger.
Shepard’s script also shines because it plays with the fact that not everything in the movie happened in real life. The first frame of the movie is simply a sentence that reads “Only the most ridiculous parts of the story are true” sending the audience on a scavenger hunt to figure out what’s real and what isn’t. The answer will shock, amuse and disgust you all at once.
Shepard also does a nice job of mixing different elements of action, satire and drama from a clever script, just like he did with his last comedy/action/drama The Matador. It switches gears so quickly that it’s hard to guess where the next scene might end up and gives the film a much more immersible quality.
The DVD picks up where the film leaves off with a copy of Anderson’s Vanity Fair article on which the film is based and an interview conducted by Shepard with two of the actual journalists who went hunting for the real Karadži?.