Sarajevo misadventures in ‘The Hunting Party’

Karl R. de Mesa
When the going gets weird, the weird become journalists. This is a story of how a trio of Americans found the most wanted terrorist in the Balkans.

BROTHERS IN ARMS. The horrors of ethnic cleansing, revisited as satire. All movie stills courtesy of UIP/Solar Entertainment Corp.

MANILA, Philippines – Simon Hunt (Richard Gere) is a haunted man. 

After years of covering one war after another, this feted combat journ vet finally loses his composure during a live broadcast covering the ethnic-cleaning atrocities of the Bosnian War. He blows it in spectacular fashion and gets the inevitable network boot. 

In the wake of Hunt’s disgrace, his long-time camera man Duck (Terrence Howard) is rewarded with the opposite end of the TV spear: he gets a cushy job at the network and all the perks thereof. Meanwhile, Hunt is left in the cold.

Still addicted to the adrenaline of covering war, he flies to conflict after conflict, unemployed, attempting to get back on top and bleach his name clean. 

BANG BANG CLUBBERS. Simon Hunt (Richard Gere) and Duck (Terence Howard) are combat vet journos who've seen it all.

6 years after the war, Duck returns to shoot a puff piece on the anniversary of the peace treaty.

Tagging along with him is rookie journalist Benjamin Strauss (Jesse Eisenberg), who also happens to be the son of the network vice-president. It is in this setting that Hunt re-enters Duck’s life and they morph from journos into the titular hunting party.   

You can actually call this one “fear and loathing in Bosnia and Herzegovina” and it wouldn’t be far off the mark.

As road tales with journos go, the hare-brained antics of the characters here rival even Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-fuelled romp. At least he and his attorney were in Las Vegas; these guys are in a post-war nation with a countryside still littered with landmines.  

Let’s get something on the table first before I proceed. This film was completed in 2007 (based on an Esquire Magazine article by Scott Anderson titled “What I Did On My Summer Vacation”), but has never been shown internationally, until now.

Exactly why? I have no idea. Were there some issues that still hit too close to the state of the Balkans and Bosnia/Herzegovina? Did the UN peace keepers take offense at the portrayal of their staff? Did the CIA? 

Just in case you notice that the cast are a tad younger than in the recent movies you’ve seen them in, this is the reason why: it was filmed 7 years ago. 

ROOKIE LESSON. Young journalist Benjamin Strauss (Jesse Eisenberg) joins Hunt and Duck, eager to get his first scoop.

Still, this outrageous tale of how a rookie, a seasoned cameraman and a discredited war correspondent go on a mission to interview Radoslav Bogdanović aka “The Fox,” the number 1 war criminal in Bosnia, is a total dose of action and comedy, with more twists than a pretzel. 

How? When Hunt shows up, he promises Duck a mind-blowing world exclusive; he says he has a source who knows the exact whereabouts of The Fox. Thing is, Hunt isn’t exactly on the up and up, and it’s total insanity to go out on field armed with spurious information. 

This road trip into the heart of Sarejevan darkness is well under way though, up into the hills in hostile territory, where the natives are still loyal to The Fox. To add to their troubles, they are mistaken as a CIA hit squad by a UN peacekeeper. It’s not a complete surprise that the Serbs, the UN police and the CIA are now after them.

See, here: This movie’s got as much to do with journalism as groupies do with rock and roll. They’re just a side effect that got caught up in the lifestyle, just like the inevitable burnout that follows combat journos who’ve been to one war zone too many. 

“Only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true,” warns the movie at the start and, while I won’t spoil it for you, there’s an accounting at the end of which facts were put in as is, or changed for dramatic purposes. Stay for that, it’s fun. 

The laughs and the bumbling action actually carry the day here. It’s replete with scrapes and near-death absurdities for the worst kind of reasons.

FEAR AND RUNNING. Hunt and Duck are addicted to covering war zones.

For example, in one scene, Boris — the zealous if blundering Russian UN rep — insists that the trio are actually CIA in disguise (why else would they be looking for The Fox?), and the more Hunt, Duck and Benjamin insist they aren’t, the more Boris thinks they are.

While Gere plays against type and injects a heady dose of tortured brooding into the Thompsonesque Hunt, his sheer range and gravitas make the down on his dump journo actually likeable; even when he plays a switcheroo on his comrades. 

“When I read [the script], I thought that it was a terrific screenplay,” Gere said. “It was beautifully written and conceived. It’s also a world that I know pretty well and although I hadn’t been in Bosnia before, I had been in Kosovo during that crisis in the late 1990s… So I knew somewhat first-hand the drama that had been going on in Yugoslavia. It was an area that I wanted to explore more, especially what happened to the Bosnians.”

As fantastic a field story as this is, the characters strike me as possessed of unhinged madness. They broke rule number one and got too involved with the story and the natives, too. Hunt even managed to have intensely emotional relations with a local girl. 

For my money, it is Terrence Howard and Jesse Eisenberg who acquit themselves adeptly, especially since they great on screen chemistry together.

The old hand at combat journ who’s now got a cushy job and the up and coming rookie who wants to score his first big foreign land story is a friction set up that holds the drum tight when the tale takes its odd (and very odd) turns. 

WE ARE NOT AMUSED. Things take a turn for the worse when the trio are mistaken for CIA operatives.

This bizarre scenario finally culminates in a meeting with Mirjana (Dianne Krueger), the source who can pinpoint The Fox’s location. To convince her, Benjamin mouths off a spiel worthy of both a CIA operative and a journo vet.

Eisenberg shoots — and scores — in that mix of sincerity and obfuscation he’ll later put to good use in “The Social Network.”     

It’s not a foray into the reality of post-conflict Sarajevo by any stretch but, darn, “The Hunting Party” sure is gritty. 

The movie does run at a longish 103 minutes and takes its time playing alternating hands of satire, action chases and back-handed political commentary.

Even with all its flaws, I loved how director and writer Richard Shepard tied everything together into a cautionary tale that is at once urban legend and Hollywood hubris. –


“The Hunting Party” is now showing at SM Cinemas nationwide. 

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