Based on a true story that was originally published in Esquire magazine by journalist Scott Anderson, writer/director Richard Shepard's Hunting Party tells the story of a cameraman named Duckie(Terrence Howard) and a news reporter named Simon Hunt (Richard Gere), a pair of danger loving journalists who wind up in war town Bosnia in the 1990s at the height of the war that had erupted in that area at that time. Though they're originally just there to cover the war like any other journalists, Hunt winds up speaking his mind on the country's nationally broadcast television channel and speaking out against the government and the reasons behind the war. As such, he's more or less booted off the air and goes into an exile of sorts, while Duckieworks his way up the ladder and winds up following the network's biggest anchorman, Franklin Harris (James Brolin), and young upstart and son of the network's VP, Benjamin Strauss (Jesse Eisenberg) into Serbia to cover the final days of the war.
All of this is business as usual until Hunt returns to his hotel room late one night to find none other than Hunt standing in the shadows. Why is he there? Because he's got a lead on a story that he knows his former partner will not be able to resist - he knows where a Serbian war criminal known as The Fox is located who just so happens to have a massive bounty on his head. Strauss, not content to mind his own business, hears what the two more experienced newsmen are discussing and decides they're going to take him along for the ride, and off they go in search of The Fox on the middle of a war torn nation in the midst of chaos.
Hunting Party is a clever mix of humor, action and adventure set against a bleak backdrop that manages to be a pretty entertaining and enticing film despite some flaws. The pacing of the first half of the picture is pretty erratic, going from war to heavy drama and dealing with mild conspiracy theory elements, and there are times scattered all throughout the film where some of the dialogue feels forced and unnatural. This hurts things a bit, but doesn't ruin the film entirely thanks to some impressive performances from all involved.
Gere's been around long enough to know how to play the type of character he's got here, while Brolin and Eisenberg may lack some of his experience they don't let you know it, as they too fit their roles very well. The sense of humor in certain scenes is really well played and fits in well, showing us that sometimes they only way to deal with the horrors of war is to make light of it or simply go insane. The dialogue, as mentioned, doesn't always work, but there are some very good and very effective moments of humor here that will help keep your interest.
This being a war movie and all, at least to a certain extent, there's some well played action scenes in the last half of the film. While hardly a shoot'em up film, there's some good suspense here that works well alongside the drama and the comedy. The more satirical elements of the picture do a fine job of taking jabs at the often times all too apparent hypocrisy of the mainstream news business (and it is very much a business) and the film doesn't shy away from the grittier and more grim aspects of its story, but ultimately it manages to hold our attention throughout. If it isn't a minor masterpiece, it's well made if a bit inconsistent and generally quite entertaining and always well acted.
The AVC encoded 2.40.1 widescreen 1080p high definition transfer is a good representation of some fairly unremarkable looking work. That might sound like a slam, but it's not, it just so happens that this movie isn't the most visually appealing though it should also be said that this look works really well in the context of the story that it's telling. There's a lot of grim colors used throughout the movie so you won't get the pop that more colorful HD transfers provide, but detail is generally very good here and there aren't any major authoring problems. Some mild noise reduction looks to have been applied in a couple of spots but it's not anything more than a minor irritant. There's no major print damage to note, nor should there be given the film's recent vintage, and skin tones generally look lifelike and natural. Backgrounds offer up lots to look at as do close up shots and texture is strong throughout. If this isn't a reference quality Blu-ray release, it's still a pretty decent looking one.
Audio options are offered up in a lossless English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix or a standard definition Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound option. The DTS-HD mix here is very strong, letting the battle scenes really take over and deal effects at you from all areas of the soundstage quite effectively. Bass response is tight and strong and you'll definitely notice your subwoofer kicking in when the movie calls for it, while the levels remain well balanced throughout the film. Dialogue is always easy to follow and understand and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note. Once the actual 'hunt' begins in the movie, pay attention to what's coming at you from the rear channels, as it's frequently impressive and it adds a lot of depth to the last half of the movie.
The supplements kick off with a commentary track from writer/director Richard Shepard that moves at a very quick pace. Never at a loss for wards for this project, here he tells us about what inspired him to write the story, what ideas were used and not used as the production shaped up, issues involving location shooting, working with the different cast members, and what it was like staging some of the more impressive scenes in the movie. Shepard does a good job here, delivering enough humor alongside the barrage of facts and trivia that this winds up being quite a good listen.
Up next are two featurettes, the first of which is The Making Of Hunting Party, a nine minute behind the scenes segment that features some basic interviews with those involved with the production as well as some on set footage. The second featurette, The Real Hunting Party, is the best of the supplements on this disc as it's a half hour interview that Shepard conducted with the actual journalists, John Falk and Scott Anderson, whose lives this film was based on. The original essay that inspired the film, What I Did On My Summer Vacation by Anderson, is also included.
Menus, chapter stops, a trailer for the feature and trailers for a few other Vivendi releases round things out on the supplemental front.
Hunting Party has some flaws but is generally very well acted and it benefits from a strong cast and a pretty tense last act. As such, we can over look some of the dialogue quirks and pacing issues that hurt the first half of the picture, because it ends on quite a strong note. Vivendi's Blu-ray release is a good one, as it features a solid transfer, very impressive audio, and a slightly better than average selection of extra features. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.