The Hunting Party
Ethnic cleansing only matters when it adversely affects an American. That’s not the main theme to writer/director Richard Shepard’s enthusiastic attempt at gallows geopolitical humor in The Hunting Party, just the unfortunate side effect of taking a piece of readymade first-person journalism and turning it into a Hollywood movie. In the summer of 2000 American journalists Scott Anderson, Sebastian Junger, and John Falk teamed up with Dutch journalist Harald Doornos and Belgian journalist Phillippe Deprez in Bosnia and, fueled by drunken speculation, decided to spend a handful of days, rather successfully, trying to ferret out the location of wanted Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic. Published in the October 2000 issue of Esquire, Anderson’s “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” is a hilarious firsthand account of Keystone Cops-like U.N. forces, nonsensically shadowy U.S. military and CIA activity, and local officials and black-marketers unwilling to believe that the journalists aren’t a CIA hit squad.
In Shepard’s hands, it becomes a still somewhat funny vision quest entangling veteran cameraman Duck (Terrence Howard) and a network VP’s right-out-of-Harvard son Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg) with washed-up and potentially wing-nut war correspondent Simon (Richard Gere), who convinces the pair to help him track, capture, and maybe even assassinate Serb war criminal the Fox (Ljubomir Kerekes, who actually does bear a slight resemblance to Karadzic) all by their lonesome because this time, it’s personal. You see, back in the day of the Balkan conflict, Simon and Duck were the network team, getting stories no other TV crew could. Then one day when reporting from a Muslim Bosnia village recently pillaged by Fox’s men, Simon flamed out on air; Duck got a cushy New York job and Simon ended up reporting from war zones on his own dime and is even presumed to be dead.
Then Duck, Benjamin, and the network’s main anchor (James Brolin) head back to Sarajevo five years after peace for an easy commemorative story, where Simon resurfaces and appeals to Duck’s inner thrill-seeker and entices him to join his journey to a Serb village on the Montenegro border where the Fox is rumored to be hiding, thus commencing an abridged version the of the comical misadventures of Anderson, Junger, et al. Too bad Shepard couldn’t leave the real hilarity alone, though, as the dramatic additions neuter the story’s potent satire. Most heinous among them is what motivates Simon—and, in effect, Duck, Benjamin, and you into being sympathetic to their mission. Apparently the rape, murder, and otherwise slaughter of Bosnian Muslims aren’t enough to warrant audience empathy. No, The Hunting Party also has to give Simon the most cliché stake in the matter, all to the detriment of the mordantly effective laughs running throughout. The Hunting Party isn’t a bad movie, just a lazy and insulting one—inadvertently offering yet more proof of why they hate us.