Wednesday 4 December 2019

Movie Review: The Hunting Party (2007)

A journalists-in-peril adventure, The Hunting Party has a potentially good story to tell but features an imbalance between danger and levity.

War zone journalist Simon Hunt (Richard Gere) and his cameraman and close friend Duck (Terrence Howard) enjoy an adrenaline-fuelled life covering the world's most dangerous conflicts. But in 1994, Simon suffers an on-air meltdown while covering the brutal war and ethnic cleansing atrocities in Bosnia. He is fired and his career goes into a downward spiral. Duck eventually loses track of his friend and secures a cushy job as the chief cameraman for the network's main anchor Franklin Harris (James Brolin).

In 2000, Duck and Franklin along with rookie reporter and nepotism beneficiary Benjamin Strauss (Jesse Eisenberg) arrive in Bosnia to cover the 5 year anniversary of the war-ending peace treaty. Simon re-enters Duck's life, claiming to know the whereabouts of wanted fugitive Dragoslav "The Fox" Bogdanović (Ljubomir Kerekeš), one of the main purveyors of ethnic cleansing. Duck and Benjamin join Hunt on a dangerous journey deep into Serb-controlled territory, where suspicious locals and UN peacekeepers immediately mistake the journalists as a CIA hit-squad, leading to surreal encounters.

Filmed in Croatia and loosely inspired by real events recounted in an Esquire magazine article, The Hunting Party attempts a difficult balancing act. The Bosnian conflict resulted in over 100,000 deaths and horrific acts of massacre and ethnic cleansing in the heart of Europe. While levity can be an antidote for brutality, here writer and director Richard Shepard tries to have it both ways by exposing his trio of intrepid journalists to genuine horror and danger then angling for laughs. The mix rarely works and more often leaves an unsatisfactory taste in the mouth.

In 2007 this story was a condemnation of inaction. By chronicling the misadventures of a group of bickering journalists as they get close to The Fox within a couple of days of amateurish searching, the film rightly exposes foot-dragging by an international community seemingly unwilling to seriously go after the architects of war. Since then the wheels of justice have turned, leaving The Hunting Party in mid-narrative territory.

Idea fragments, some more promising than others, are introduced on the periphery of the main plot. Simon Hunt's emotional collapse and career disintegration after repeated exposure to violence is a welcome acknowledgement of post traumatic stress disorder creeping up on the seemingly immune, but deserved more exposition. Much less successful is the hurried injection of a barely-baked romance to personalize his tragedy and turn the quest to find The Fox into a personal vendetta.

Richard Gere, Terrence Howard and Jesse Eisenberg are functional without ever departing from stock characterizations. Diane Kruger gets one scene as a mysterious informant demanding money from the CIA (as she is convinced the journalists are all undercover agents) to reveal The Fox's hideout.

Despite exposing snippets from a tragic and cinematically underexposed conflict, The Hunting Party misses its prey.

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