From The Third Man onward, there's a great tradition of film set in the aftermath of a major conflict, when bandits and opportunists seize on the peacetime chaos before the dust settles and order gets restored. Much like Three Kings, possibly its closest antecedent in terms of style and irreverent tone, Richard Shepard's rollicking black comedy The Hunting Party follows a trio of American journalists looking to make a quick buck in a war-weary country. But they aren't chasing loose gold, they're after the story of a lifetime. And hey, if that happens to nab them a multimillion-dollar bounty for catching Bosnia's most wanted war criminal, all the better. It's absurd for them to think they can have their cake and eat it too, but the film thrives on such absurdities, ably capturing the grizzled cynicism and suicidal panache of reporters who have been embedded too long in war zones.
As a broadcast journalist gone to seed, Richard Gere trades his suave persona for a disheveled mop of gray hair and a desperate energy that's no longer suitable for television. After spending years dodging bullets with ace cameraman Terrence Howard, Gere finally snapped in an on-air meltdown, no longer able to report dispassionately over the unchecked genocide he was witnessing in the Balkans. After losing his job, the hard-drinking Gere stayed in-country, scraping together freelance gigs to pay down an ever-growing debt; meanwhile, his buddy Howard was promoted to cushy work on a network soundstage. When the two reunite during the fifth anniversary of the war's end, Gere suckers Howard and greenhorn reporter Jesse Eisenberg into joining him on his quest to find "The Fox," an elusive war criminal hiding out among fierce loyalists in the mountains.
It's a hilariously half-baked scheme, one that quickly turns them from hunters to hunted, but the strength of The Hunting Party is its shaggy-dog quality; when they finally happen across their prey, they look like they've been smacked around by bumpers in a pinball machine. Writer-director Shepard, who previously made the underrated buddy comedy The Matador, writes tart dialogue and has an excellent feel for male bonding under duress. He has a conscience, too, but he couches it in a thick layer of irony. In the process, the film pays proper homage to real-life adventurers who have been exposed to so much human misery that they can only beat it back with dark jokes and oceans of hard liquor.