The Hunting Party, a film very much in the tradition of M.A.S.H., Welcome to Sarajevo or Three Kings is a docudrama spiked with jet-black wit. It continues Richard Gere's late-career renaissance as well as his fascination with playing dishonest, unlikable characters (see also: The Hoax. The Hunting Party also provides writer/director Richard Shepard, late of the Pierce Brosnan/Greg Kinnear vehicle The Matador, another chance to explore the mysteries and melancholies of male relationships.
Based on "What I Did on My Summer Vacation," an Esquire article by Scott K. Anderson, The Hunting Party follows fictional news reporter Simon Hunt (Gere), a once-proud network newsman whose on-air meltdown led to a steady, sad fall from grace. His cameraman, Duckie (a terrific Terrence Howard), rebounded from that snafu and found himself working a cushy corporate job with the network, paired up with star anchor Franklin Harris (James Brolin).
Simon and Duckie, who covered the Bosnian conflict together in the Nineties, find themselves reunited in 2000 upon the conflict's fifth anniversary. Simon, a now-disgraced reporter, has a lead on one of Bosnia's most wanted war criminals, enlisting Duckie and Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg) to help track him down. As the film says in its opening moments, only the most ridiculous moments of this story are true ... and some pretty insane things happen before the credits roll.
As he did in The Matador, Shepard deftly blends comedy, drama and thriller elements, often in the same scene, letting the laughs catch in your throat. He also weaves satirical jabs into his screenplay, making barbed observations about the mercenary nature of the media and the futility of American involvement abroad. It's a potent mixture and the result is a film that doesn't always quite hit the mark tonally.
That said, were it not for the three exceptional lead actors, The Hunting Party would collapse; Gere, Howard and the sometimes grating Eisenberg achieve a unique and palpable chemistry that propels the film over its rougher spots. Shepard's keen eye for human foibles and mostly steady hand in dealing with complicated, depressing subject matter is admirable, making The Hunting Party a sobering yet quietly thrilling little film.
Appropriately gritty and grim, The Hunting Party nevertheless looks very solid in this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Shepard doesn't shy away from using every inch of the frame, often employing stylish effects or extreme angles, but the image never suffers. A great, crisp representation of recently filmed material.
There were stretches of dialogue that were rendered a bit quietly by this Dolby Digital 5.1 track, so much so that I found myself upping the volume a bit during sequences that didn't involve gunfire and explosions. Otherwise, everything was clean and clear across the board. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are included.
Writer/director Shepard contributes an informative, rapid-fire and amusing commentary track, which touches on the genesis of the project and the challenges of filming The Hunting Party. Six deleted scenes (presented in non-anamorphic widescreen) are here, playable separately or all together -- for an aggregate of five minutes, 22 seconds -- with optional Shepard commentary. "The Real Hunting Party," an absolutely fascinating 29 minute, 40 second featurette (presented in anamorphic widescreen), tags along as Shepard interviews two of the real-life journalists who lived the movie. The nine minute, 18 second "Making 'The Hunting Party'" featurette is your garden variety behind-the-scenes doc (presented in anamorphic widescreen), with the film's theatrical trailer, presented in anamorphic widescreen, rounding out the disc.
The Hunting Party, a film very much in the tradition of M.A.S.H., Welcome to Sarajevo or Three Kings is a docudrama spiked with jet-black wit. Writer/director Richard Shepard's keen eye for human foibles and mostly steady hand in dealing with complicated, depressing subject matter is admirable, making The Hunting Party a sobering yet quietly thrilling little film. Recommended.