Despite the Western genre's resurgence -- and Hollywood's willingness to remake already acceptable examples of the classic format -- Richard Shepard
's The Hunting Party has nothing to do with Don Medford's smoldering love-triangle-on-the-pioneer-trail from 1971 that carries the same name. Instead of a brilliant stand-off between Gene Hackman and Oliver Reed, we get the versatile Terrence Howard
and a dependable (but unremarkable) Richard Gere
sprinting through a ripped-from-the-headlines satire of our nation's ongoing military turmoil overseas.
Simon Hunt (Gere) has had enough. After years spent covering the atrocities of war with fearless cameraman Duck (Howard) in tow, Hunt lets his wearied emotions get the better of him during a live segment. His meltdown doesn’t approach Howard Beale's "mad as hell" level, but it's enough to pull the plug on Hunt's career for the time being. Article continues below
Flash forward a few years. Duck, who narrates the opening salvos of this hectic Party, has accepted a cushy gig at the network. He returns to Bosnia to film a puff-piece on a fruitless peace treaty and stumbles across Hunt -- a desperate freelancer who is hungry for a story big enough to propel him back to the realm of credibility. And Hunt thinks he has one. Through a tip, he has located The Fox (Ljubomir Kerekes), Bosnia's chief war criminal and the source of a $5 million bounty. Hunt wants to capture him, and he convinces Duck to come along for the ride.
Shepard's screenplay, based on an article that ran in Esquire magazine, constructs a fancy lead for what eventually becomes a routine action thriller with a fair share of dark comedy sprinkled in to offset the gloom. Those who caught Shepard's The Matador will recognize his stylish visual approach, though it has lost that sheen of originality. The performances are competent, with Gere holding a note of desperation longer than is necessary.
The Beale comparison makes a bit of sense as Party plays out, though. Where Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky used a crumbling network anchor to expose hypocrisies behind the scenes at our television stations, Shepard tries to use a news crew planted behind enemy lines to tear down the inadequacies of the United Nations and the Bush administration, and to poke fingers at the ever-expanding chasm between reporting the news and creating it.
Party wants to cover a lot of ground, but shortchanges most of it. We should have seen it coming. A sarcastic tag preludes the picture claiming that only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true. Shepard must be explaining away his incomplete ending, which settles a personal grudge for one of the film's protagonists but doesn't place a single patch on the hopelessly broken international political structure.