Strange how far away the ghastly Balkans genocide of the 1990s, seems today, when the Islamic side was widely perceived as the innocent victims, bestial Serb mobs the rape-happy killers – on par with Nazis, but lacking even the Reich’s patina of spit-shined S&M discipline - and the meddling US troops the good guys. I know it probably wasn’t that simple, but I used to have a Serb for a landlord, so that makes clear whose side I'm on. In any case, Bosnia now almost like a Ruritanian fiction, like The Prisoner of Zenda.
But it did happen, and The Hunting Party claims to be a strange true story to come out of that conflict, or at least the version reported in an Esquire magazine feature article recently. Guess they couldn’t cruise on those “Women We Love” profiles of Cindy Crawford and Gwen Stefani forever.
Setting is Bosnia after the Dayton Peace Accords. Simon Hunt (a nicely seasoned Richard Gere) is a penniless, disgraced globetrotting war correspondent who materializes out of nowhere to call on his old cameraman Duck (Terrence Howard), now an ace network videographer for the blow-dried star anchorman (James Brolin). At first Simon explains he just wants help doing portfolio taping so he can apply for yet more jobs with low-ranking news organization, but soon he reels his old buddy in with his actual reason for being there. Simon claims a lead to locating the most-wanted Dr. Lisica (Ljubomir Kerekes), alias "The Fox," a Serb militia leader responsible for executing countless Muslims civilians (Simon’s pregnant girlfriend among them) during the brutal "ethnic cleansings." There is supposed to be a massive manhunt on after the Fox, yet nobody, not the CIA, not the incompetent UN peacekeeping forces, are able to touch him in his cruddy little Serb principality just outside Sarajevo.
Hunt persuades Duck and his eager, novice journo intern Benjamin (Jessie Eisenberg) to charge in with him after the warlord, getting revenge and a widely-publicized $5 million reward. That still doesn't mean Simon has any real clue how to achieve this, without guns or firm intel, in the forests of unfriendly, gun-toting villagers. An absurdist detail, however, is that the more maladroit the trio seems, the more all the locals are convinced they must be a dangerous undercover CIA hit team.
It’s very likely that this plotline could have been played for more high weirdness or dark surrealism than it is by director Richard Shepard, who probably should really be commended for sticking pretty close to the published facts. The niftiest thing about The Hunting Party, kicking it up a whole notch, in my book, are cheeky closing credits that purport to fact-check the scripted narrative you’ve just seen, informing the viewer which details were real and which were dramatic confabulations.
Cassady approves this! I'd make that mandatory for all the "inspired by actual events" movies, starting with The Babe Ruth Story and Davey Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier clean through to offenders such as JFK, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Exorcism of Emily Rose and Gere's own Mothman Prophecies. This wrapup also serves a sting in the tale that makes this feature very relevant after all to this twisted post-9/11 world and Osama bin Laden. Don’t hold your breath waiting for justice to be done in that case either.