Richard Gere .Simon
Terrence Howard .Duck
Jesse Eisenberg .Benjamin
Diane Kruger .Mirjana
James Brolin .Franklin Harris
Dylan Baker .Chet
Mark Ivanir .Boris
Ljubomir Kerekes .The Fox/Lisica
MGM/Weinstein Co. present The Hunting Party. Running time: 103 minutes. Rated R (for strong language and some violent content).
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. As the hitman who is having a bit of an identity crisis, he proves that getting older is only well and good if you are a simpleton with a wife and two-point-five kids. But in a job where you can forget about taking early retirement or a 401K plan, becoming a washed-up killer-for-hire is as bad as it gets.
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.
For the second time this year Gere is playing a character based on fact. The story the true story that is is that in the spring of 2001 five veteran war reporters had a small get-together in Bosnia and Herzegovina to reminisce about the war. Musing and drinking the night away led to them stumbling and wandering the countryside of Sarajevo. The rhyme and reason: to capture an international war criminal. NATO and American officials assumed these five men were CIA ops, despite the five men claiming otherwise.
In this Hollywood interpretation, the five reporters have been excised to three. 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?
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):