The Hunting Party (2007)
Once upon a time journalism was a noble profession. Even the reporters on television had a high degree of integrity. When you saw men like Walter Cronkite, or Huntley and Brinkley on the tube you just knew you could trust them. Then, a number of years ago a major shift happened in this profession. Most news source moved over to the entertainment world. Now I’m not talking about the trend on reporting on every little pop princess with a DUI, this is far more insidious. All forms of the news had to become entertainment itself. With this trend the people reporting the news had to be young and photogenic. For an aging reporter left out in the cold prospects for getting a piece out became increasingly difficult. This is the background drives the latest film by writer-director Richard Shepard. ‘The Hunting Party’. Based on the non fiction Esquire article by Scott Anderson called "What I Did on my Summer Vacation", the story looks at the attempts of an over the hill reporter trying his best to get back on top. Since he cannot find a story to accomplish this he finds himself in the position to make the story on his own. It is not as if he was going to fabricate the news he just wants to nudge it a bit by tracking down an infamous Serbian war criminal. As with most ‘true’ stories in movies this one carries the disclaimer ‘based on true events’. This is actually code for we took a good deal of license with the facts.
The first indication that this film is not to be taken as historical in any sense of the word is the genre selected. This is a dark comedy, a really dark comedy. The humor contained in the movie is based on watching men desperately trying to regain their long lost glory days. This is at its heart a tale of a male mid-life crisis and in one form or another most of us out there with a ‘Y’ chromosome go through it. Hopefully most of us do not feel the overwhelming need to take the extreme steps to overcome that feeling as the men here take. The film is an excellent try for all involved but there is a sense that it just missed the mark. It may have faired better it the story was presented in a more straight forward fashion. It is not the subject is one that does not lend itself to the dark comedy genre; it is more that in the attempts to instill the gallows humor the focus of the story is lost. Now that is not to say that the humor doesn’t work, it does. The story could have stood as close as possible to the facts and made for a gripping drama. By exaggerating the characters for the sake of humor some of the humanity is lost. The DVD of the film is released by the Weinstein Company, well known for their commitment to quality. This is a worth while film as is and it is ultimately entertaining. The acting is great, the writing and direction excellent. The execution of the film is great but there is a feeling that another track may have increased the appeal.
There was a time when Simon Hunt (Richard Gere) was one of the most successful and popular television reporters. He was well known for his willingness to be embedded in military action and taking his reports right into the heat of combat. With his trusty cameraman Duck (Terrence Howard) they faced gun fire and explosions like most men take the 5:10 train back home from work. When he was sent to cover the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he didn’t think twice about the assignment; it was business as usual. In 1984 Sarajevo was the host of the Olympic, a peaceful gathering of nations. By the early nineteen nineties it was reduced to a city being destroyed by war. For Simon and Duck being the recorders of war removed them to a certain extent from its horrors. They got off on the adrenaline rush of being the unblinking eye recording the carnage. Their willingness to go into the thick of things garnered awards back home for the pair; they were on the top of their journalistic world. Then one day Simon’s world crashed. During a live feed report from Bosnia Simon has a breakdown. While it is not unheard of for even the bravest men to lose it during a war most do not do so on a live television news program in front of millions of viewers. The anchorman, Franklin Harris (James Brolin) tries his best to cut off Simon but the over stressed reporter keeps rambling on and on. Since the viewers want to see a stoic reporter in combat not a babbling human being Simon loses his job. His career goes on the skid and he is forced to take whatever freelance jobs are still open to him. None of them are anywhere near the potential for real news as were his previous reports. Duck fared better than Simon in the aftermath of the onscreen disaster. He winds up with a nice network cameraman position back home. On the fifth anniversary of the conflict Harris is sent to Bosnia for a piece bringing Duck along with him. It turns out that Simon is also there and catches sight of his old friend. He pursues Duck and tries to sell him on an idea for a story. Simon wants to track down and interview, if not capture, the most heinous and wanted war criminal of the conflict, the Fox (Ljubomir Kerekes). Duck initially thinks the idea is foolhardy but in time he agrees to one last quest with his buddy. They even get the network interested in the project since if they succeed it will be the story of the century. The son of a network executive, Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg) is assigned as the producer and demands to go in the field with the pair. When a member of the U.N. peace keeping contingent, Boris (Mark Ivanir), comes under the impression that the group is actually a CIA hit squad, Simon and company think this is the perfect cover. Unfortunately, when the people involved with the Fox get wind of the CIA connection they believe it and begin hunting the journalists.
It with some flaws in presentation Richard Shepard provides the audience with a well constructed film. The pacing is very good although some of the flashbacks of the events leading up to Simon’s breakdown disrupt the continuity. Shepard has a quick and agile wit that comes across in his script. As the director he keeps the audience interested from the start and doesn’t let up. A lot of this film is the talent of the cast. Richard Gere has moved on from the handsome urban roles of his youth into a well seasoned actor capable of playing the most unsympathetic with such flair that the audience becomes infatuated with him. This is the case here, Simon is grasping at straws to revive his career and not only doesn’t care about his personal safety but he is willing to risk the lives of the only people who still have faith in him. Gere is one of the few actors who can make the audience care about a man like that. Terrence Howard is excellent as Duck. Rather than make the character into a man who blindly follows his friend Howard infuses his character with a personality such that the viewers can understand why he goes off on this ill fated quest.
The Weinstein Company does their usual great job in bringing a film to DVD. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is brilliant if vibrant colors and true tones. The Dolby 5.1 audio has the range to present both the explosions and dialogue perfectly. The extras are great. There is the required making of featurette biut they go far beyond just that. The commentary track featuring Shepard is excellent with him covering every aspect of production. There are deleted scenes with optional commentary. A nice addition here is an interview between Shepard and the actual journalist involved in the real story. Rounding things out is the complete text of the article in Esquire. This is a very good selection for any movie night.