Back in the mid-'90s, though, the city was the epicenter of conflict for a war that would splinter the nation of Yugoslavia into nine separate states. That's how Duck (Terrence Howard) and Simon (Richard Gere) best remember it, as a site of feverish sectarian strife and ethnic cleansing. Back in those days, the two were partners. Duck was an ace cameraman and Simon was a hotshot foreign correspondent for some television network. Probably the best. That's the way these things always work.
Then, one day, Simon had a meltdown on national television and disappeared.
Flash-forward to 2000. Duck has given up "the adrenaline rush and nonstop erection" of war correspondence in favor of a nice Stateside gig recording a silver-haired veteran as he reports on Senate subcommittees and other important, boring things. He's back in Sarajevo to cover the five-year anniversary of the end of hostilities, joined by the silver-haired gent (James Brolin in a cameo) and a kid named Ben (Jesse Eisenberg), whom Simon correctly surmises is "young enough to be the kid of someone important."
Until Simon finds Duck that first night in-country, the cameraman hadn't seen his former partner in years. In truth, he hadn't been eager to go looking. Before Duck can apologize properly for the long silence, Simon has convinced cameraman Duck to accompany him on a freelance (read: unpaid) gig to hunt down "The Fox," the conflict's worst genocidal dictator, and to score an exclusive interview. Ben insinuates his way in as well, for no reason other than comic relief.
There isn't much that astounds in The Hunting Party. It's essentially a three-man buddy film flecked with black social satire. The team drives a bit and encounters apathetic United Nations peacekeepers. They drive a bit more and have guns pulled on them for asking the wrong questions. They drive farther still and the reason for Simon's meltdown becomes apparent. The film is quick-paced, funny, occasionally shocking and, for a complete fiction, informative. It's also, though, not much of a stretch.
There's not much stretching at all going on in this film. Eisenberg, excellent in The Squid and the Whale, is underused. Howard and Gere are good in the ways we expect them to be good (worldly in Howard's case, slimy in Gere's). The UN Peacekeepers are all caricatures, the Serbs in the Fox's employ are all monsters. The monsters are to be feared for their barbarity, the caricatures are to be mocked and hated for their bureaucratic indifference to that barbarity. It's all in keeping with the spirit of a good farce.
Writer-director Richard Shepherd (The Matador, a film similar in tone) betrays enough moments of humanistic conscience to pull the film from pure satire to something much muddier. These moments give the film heart and, in its own way, a journalistic sensibility. Much of what happens is predictable, funny, fictive and kinda ho-hum. There's enough truth, though, in the way the second unit filmed the devastation and the people of Bosnia and enough bone-and-gristle humanity in the few earnest soliloquies Shepherd allows his characters, to make The Hunting Party a kind of Catch-22 for the Yugoslav Wars. It's not nearly as good as that -- not by half -- but with the conflict rapidly retreating from collective memory, this may be the best treatment it'll get. (One night only, Oct. 11, at Village Centre, Rated R)