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The Hunting Party

The Fox and the Hound

The release of Richard Shepardís The Hunting Party couldnít be timelier. The film revolves around a down and out war journalist (Richard Gere) who coerces his former cameraman (Terence Howard) to help track down the most infamous war criminal in Eastern Europe ("The Fox"). Allegedly, The Fox is being pursued by the CIA, FBI, and just about everyone in between. Additionally, it seems that most people know where this criminal resides, yet he still remains free. HmmmÖdoes this sound vaguely familiar?

Writer/director Richard Shepardís sophomore effort has more than a few elements that are consistent with what he showed us in the darkly comedic The Matador. Richard Gereís Simon is a washed up, sauced up journalist who leads a marginalized existence (not unlike Pierce Brosnanís washed up, cynical character in The Matador), and Shepardís attitude towards life (and death) is flippant and cavalier as was the case in his first film.

Shepardís writing and directing sensibilities are well suited for a film like The Hunting Party which is unquestionably a cynical (and hysterical) story of how three determined journalists looking for the scoop of the century end up being mistaken for bounty hunters. But, The Hunting Party would not be nearly the film that it is were it not for the cast Shepard managed to score for this film.

Gere is fantastic as the jaded, semi-drunk (and stoned) war journalist. Formerly acclaimed and respected, Simonís on air blow up has led him to doing contract jobs with tiny stations in Jamaica. Gere plays Simon with a wonderful amalgamation of desperation and charm.

Terence Howard is solid as Simonís former cameraman, Duck, who is duped by Simon into tagging along with him in tracking down the nefarious war criminal known as "The Fox". Duckís career has gone in a decidedly more positive direction since he and Simon parted ways, but Duckís a sucker for a great story and Simonís sold him a good one.

Rounding out the cast (and stealing a number of scenes) is the neophyte journalist Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg) whose blind ambition and naÔve passion puts him in more than a fair share of compromising positions. Eisenberg conveys plenty with a simple wide eyed, open mouthed gaze. Benjamin quickly learns what "real" journalism is all about. With any luck, heíll live to tell.

Richard Shepard has once again crafted a film that has all the right elements. The characters in The Hunting Party are multidimensional, engaging, and despite their flaws (or perhaps in spite of) they are endearing on some level. Shepardís gift as a writer comes across in the tight pacing of the movie from start to finish. There is never a dull moment in the film and Shepard raises all kinds of interesting questions for conspiracy theorists to ponder.

Thankfully The Hunting Party was released at a better time of year than The Matador (released in January of 2006 with minimal promotion) and appears to be getting much better visibility than Richard Shepardís first film. As far as smart, funny, thrillers go, The Hunting Party is about as good as it gets.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars