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With: Terrence Howard, Richard Gere, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Kruger, James Brolin, Ljubomir Kerekes, Kristina Krepela, Snezana Markovic, Joy Bryant, Goran Kostic, R. Mahalakshmi Devaraj, Mark Ivanir, Zdravko Kocevar, Damir Saban, Dylan Baker
Written by: Richard Shepard, based on an article by Scott K. Anderson
Directed by: Richard Shepard
MPAA Rating: R for strong language and some violent content
Running Time: 96
Date: 09/03/2007

The Hunting Party (2007)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Hunt' Men

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Richard Shepard's The Hunting Party takes on the topic of war criminals still at large. It wants to know why the U.S. has been unable to find certain outlaws, when just about any civilian with a passport, the price of a drink and a line of B.S. can do it. But instead of grousing or hand wringing, it becomes a spry, surprising and intelligent comedy.

The movie is told through the point of view of a TV news cameraman nicknamed Duck (Terrence Howard), who once worked together with reporter Simon Hunt (Richard Gere) in any Third World war zone worth covering. Their lives together were dangerous and exciting. They dodged explosions, drank in dive bars and romanced local girls. But when the tragedy got to be too much for Simon, he melted down on the air, effectively ending the relationship. Duck has since been promoted to a highly paid New York studio job, while Simon works for increasingly desperate TV stations so far off the radar that he eventually disappears. For the five-year anniversary of the end of the war in Bosnia, Duck, a polished TV anchorman (James Brolin) and a network executive's son, Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), arrive to cover a routine press conference. Simon is also there, and he convinces Duck to help him cover the story of the decade: finding an infamous war criminal known as The Fox with a $5 million bounty on his head.

From there, writer/director Shepard takes his characters on a real ride, juxtaposing the prefab press conference with seat-of-your-pants journalism, which involves sniffing out leads, blundering into fresh information and a lot of drinking. As with his lively, highly enjoyable 2005 film The Matador, Shepard has a gift for exciting suspense, which then gives rise to intelligent humor. In a lesser film, creating humor out of tension can often result in a sickly, dreadful feeling, but Shepard's films employ anticipation rather than dread. The Hunting Party is based on many real people and events, but Shepard avoids the usual reverential treatment. He has been truly inspired by the lunacy of the real events and runs with them, making them the crazy centerpiece of the movie and providing a fictional cushion around them. (The movie's opening line is "only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true," and the end credits go on to explain just what he means by that.)

When it comes time for Shepard to ask his question about war and war criminals, he includes it with the regular flow of the movie; it's not tacked on, and it doesn't change the movie's tone. He's not angry, or even exasperated, and he's not out to teach or preach. He sees the absurdity of the entire situation and invites us to see it too.

The Weinstein Company's 2008 DVD release comes with a commentary track by director Shepard, an interview with the real guys, a making-of featurette, Scott K. Anderson's original Esquire article (you have to read your TV screen) and a trailer. There are a few deleted scenes, which, much to my astonishment, were actually included in the film at the early press screening I saw. Most of them are good, I think, and actually improved the film.

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