The Hunting Party opens with narration, which can sometimes be seen as a troublesome sign. In the beginning scene, we learn that Duck (Terrence Howard) and Simon (Richard Gere) used to be a solid reporting team. They’ve covered wars, you know. Actually, that’s pretty much all that they do, as they’re kind of adrenaline junkies. They enjoy the thrills that come from background explosions and bullets whizzing by their faces.
Or, they did. Simon had a meltdown during a live telecast and was subsequently fired. Duck was promoted to a cozy New York City job, while Simon went through a dozen jobs before eventually disappearing completely. All of this is told to us by Duck, although we also see some of the scenes taking place. Our film kicks up a few years later, now that the Bosnaian war of the 90s has come to an end. Duck, and his new cameraman, Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), are covering the fifth year anniversary of the war’s conclusion.
What a surprise it turns out to be when Simon shows up in Bosnia with a “hot story.” He won’t tell Duck what that story is until he agrees to cover it, even though Duck has a girlfriend (Joy Bryant) waiting for him in Greece. Because we wouldn’t have a movie if Duck didn’t agree to tag along, he does so. The story: A war criminal named “The Fox” (Ljubomir Kerekes) is currently hiding somewhere in the country. Simon has received a tip to his location, and is going to try to get an interview with him. Benjamin tags along, because he’s a kid right out of Harvard and needs a big story to prove to his father that he’s cut out for this business.
Of course, Simon has a hidden motive behind his journey. It’s not spoiling to tell you what it is, as right after the characters get in the car, he spills the beans: He actually wants to capture The Fox, take him to the UN, and receive the $5 million reward for doing so. He’ll keep $3 million, while the other two characters are free to split it however they please. There’s more motivation than the money (a “tragic” back story between Simon and The Fox is introduced), but the money sounds good enough to me.
What follows is a journey through back roads, meeting some unwelcoming locals, and a lot of group bonding. The film seems to realize that the only points when it works is when the three lead actors are talking with one another, or getting into all sorts of shenanigans together. I know that some websites out there list this as either a thriller or action film, but to me, it was mostly a drama. There are only a couple of thrilling moments throughout, and they come mostly at the end. This isn’t a film that wants to make you sit on the edge of your seat.
With that said, I’m not exactly sure what The Hunting Party wants to make you do. The opening title card tells us that “only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true.” Okay, so it’s going to be a comedy. The first few scenes of the film, including Howard’s narration, reinforce this. But once the plot starts to get going, it loses that comedic nature and becomes a strict drama. There are also a couple of moments with some suspense, but they’re few and far between and don’t add up to much of the film’s (overlong) runtime.
The film purports to be based on a true story, using an article in Esquire as its tie to reality. It is very loosely based on that article, and plays out much more like an act of fiction than something that could happen to real people. There’s even a stupid deus ex machina element thrown in near the end, which didn’t at all work even though it’s supposed to help accentuate the critique of the United Nations. Throughout the film, various groups and organizations are criticized for not trying to catch The Fox, and the ending makes a point of forcing us to remember how much this movie dislikes that.
However, when it comes to the ending, The Hunting Party should have finished about ten minutes earlier than it did. It even sounds like it’s going to end, as our narration — which had been absent since the opening — returns and even tells us that the film’s going to end. And then the movie just keeps on playing, wrapping something up that we already knew was wrapped up because the voice-over told us. It’s more frustrating than satisfying at this point, and I was wondering what the point was of having a freeze frame, giving us a couple of minutes of narration, and then continuing on.
Where The Hunting Party succeeds — and pretty much the only reason that I could ever recommend watching it — is in its actors. All three of the leads have a great chemistry together, even though the film doesn’t really know what to do with them. They’re all charismatic, and they seem like they would be fun to spend some time traveling the Bosnian countryside with. There are also two noteworthy supporting roles (given to James Brolin and Diane Kruger), which top off an already impressive cast.
This was a disappointing film kept alive and watchable only because of its actors. But there isn’t a consistent tone, the story doesn’t give the characters much to do, and I was never sure exactly what I was supposed to be feeling. The criticism of certain organizations and countries didn’t quite work as we already knew or assumed it all — although at least this movie wasn’t afraid to tell us exactly what it felt — and it’s on the whole a waste of time.