SORRY, CHUCK NORRIS!

Beginning with the scrawl of “only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true”, the movie sets the tone so perfectly, for what to expect.  ‘The Hunting Party’, writer-director Richard Shepard’s daring sophomore venture into the world of feature films (only counting his serious efforts, since THE MATADOR), is both delightful and engaging.

A thrill-seeking cameraman – Duck (Terrence Howard), a burnt-out and somewhat disgraced journalist – Simon (Richard Gere) and Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), a recent Harvard-graduate out to prove his mettle to his father… embark on a quest to search for the biggest story of their careers – an interview with ‘THE FOX’, Bosnia’s most wanted war criminal.

Matters complicate, when this simple strive for a story turns out to be something more. Simon, who’s initial plea was getting the interview to revive his decimated career, opens an entirely dangerous can of worms when he reveals his mission to actually try and capture ‘the Fox’ to collect the $5 million bounty. Duped and cornered, just as Duck and Benjamin want out, they find themselves further entangled in the web – when they’re mistaken by the UN officials as CIA agents… (incredulously, a hit squad at that).

Comic relief stems from the dynamics between the disenchanted Simon, the pragmatic Duck, and the neophyte Benjamin. Boris (Mark Ivanir), the UN inspector, is another hilarious character thrown in for comedic measure. Combined with incidents involving a midget, an uncharacteristic show of bravado by Benjamin, and some zany moments that are just too good to ruin the surprise, ‘The Hunting Party’ is as comedic as a serious film can be without getting campy.

Incredible performance by the three leads, a cameo by the beautiful Diane Kruger, and an ensemble effort from the Bosnian character actors, this movie lives up and exceeds any expectation one may have from this kind of film.

The most interesting stylistic choice is with regards to periodic clips of ‘Chuck Norris’ blazing guns and reducing everything to rubble… Choosing the opposite end of the spectrum, Shepard maintains the thrill element of the movie without the three protagonists ever picking up a firearm. A movie that depicts violence but never endorses it, ‘The Hunting Party’ is the anti-Chuck Norris flick. The heroes are ones who do good… but don’t have to blast 50 rounds of ammunition to do so.

Based on an article in Esquire, and with some creative license, Shepard masterfully treads the line between drama and comedy, in this edge-of-the-seat thriller, that has a message, but doesn’t overpower. With three-dimensional characters, a great plot, pertinent pacing, and precise direction, Shepard (in my opinion) tops his previous effort as a filmmaker. A movie worth watching… for sure!

Suggested similar movies:  Behind Enemy Lines, No Man’s Land.

Also by director Richard Shepard: The Matador.