In October 2000 Scott Anderson wrote “What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” an article for Esquire magazine about his booze fueled misadventures, with four journalists friends (including Sebastian Junger of Perfect Storm fame), trying to track down the Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic. According to his article: “In the four and a half years since the war in Bosnia had ended, only forty-eight of the ninety-four men indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague had been captured.” In the seven years since its publication, one doubts many more war criminals have been caught, but the film The Hunting Party loosely based on Anderson’s piece has been produced and opens in New York September 7th, expanding successively wider the 14th and 21st (trailer here).
Written and directed by Richard Shepard, The Hunting Party boldly announces: “Only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true.” While there are flashes of inspiration throughout the film, and the opening and closing sequences border on brilliant, in-between Hunting Party simply is not as wildly unbelievable as it likes to think. Instead of the five journalist friends with more liquor and enthusiasm than sense, Hunting Party cuts the search party down to three, diversifying their backgrounds. Richard Gere plays down-and-out gonzo reporter Simon Hunt. Terrence Howard plays Duck, his former camera man, now enjoying a cushy network gig, and Jesse Eisenberg plays Benjamin, the annoying rookie journalist and son of a network big wig.
The strongest element of Party is its sense of place. Shot on location in Sarajevo and Croatia (doubling for Serbia), it presents a world literally scarred by war and figuratively haunted by ghosts. Their search for The Fox, the fictionalized version of Karadzic, takes on some intriguing twists and turns. Along the way, the United Nation’s incompetence is exposed (again), when the official attached to the International Police Task Force tells them he would be happy to make apprehending war criminals a priority, but he does not have a copy of the indictment list or a working fax machine—an episode the film deliberately points out was based on fact.
Gere emotes all over the screen as the tortured Hunt. Howard’s Duck however, having lost his spirit since selling out for network comfort, is understandably reserved and understated. Eisenberg’s Benjamin is simply irritating. Together they do not present a strong rooting interest. The strongest personalities on-screen are actually two small supporting parts. Mark Ivanir comes across as quirky but humane as Boris, the Bulgarian officer attached to the UN peacekeeping force, who wants to do the right thing, even if it is outside his official mandate. Also, Dylan Baker gets to chew on some of the film’s best dialogue as an arrogant CIA spook who materializes late in the film.
Hunting Party has its strengths and weakness. Despite some bland and clichéd characterizations, it moves along at a fast clip, and it does raise some valid questions. Was there a secret deal cut to protect war criminals like Karadzic during the 1995 peace talks? When the truth comes out on the Clinton administration, the real arsenic may be in their Bosnian record. For years, Clinton ignored the suffering of the Bosnians by steadfastly defending the arms embargo, which benefited the Serbs (and their Bosnian Serb allies by extension), as Serbia controlled most of the former Yugoslav army’s munitions. Did that administration also establish a policy of turning a blind eye to the fate of war criminals? A character in Hunting Party points out that they were able to find The Fox in a matter of days, whereas the UN, CIA, and NATO had five years, but were unsuccessful. Unfortunately, that is not too ridiculous to be true.