Simon (Richard Gere) was once a dashing and important journalist, but thanks to drink and an infamous on-camera meltdown years earlier, he's fallen off the radar. Most people, including his former cameraman Duck (Terrence Howard), now a network star with a comfy desk job, just assume he's dead. In truth, he went "freelance," which when you're talking about war correspondents, is sort of like going off the deep end.
The two old friends meet up in Sarajevo, where the United Nations is holding a ceremony commemorating the fifth anniversary of the end of the war. Duck came partly out of a sense of nostalgia for the good old days when he dodged bullets and mortar fire, but really, the trip is just a stop on his way to a Greek vacation.
Simon cajoles Duck into the adventure, mainly by teasing him about how soft his underbelly has become. But there's also some pity involved here on Duck's part. He liked and respected Simon, and it's hard to see him living on the fringe (Simon peddles videotape from the frontlines of civil conflicts to television stations in Third World countries).
If this story sounds like the kind of smart, politically astute frolic one might find in the pages of the better men's magazine, that is because it is based on a first-person account written by journalist Scott Anderson in 2001 for Esquire.
Anderson was in Sarajevo in early 2001 on vacation with "Perfect Storm" author Sebastian Junger and three other journalist buddies when they decided, on a drunken lark, to go looking for Radovan Karadzic, a notorious fugitive who had supposedly been spotted recently in the mountains near Montenegro. They get closer than they expected, and the article makes the point that even though the bounty on Karadzic and others of his kind's heads suggest that the United Nations and NATO want to catch these war criminals, in reality, the agencies, and the United States are content to let sleeping dogs lie.
Writer/director Richard Shepard ("The Matador") has sexed their story up a bit, including changing one of their informants from a man to a beautiful woman (Diane Kruger). The back story he gives Simon is a tad embarrassing -- it's obviously a grasp for emotional weight -- but that's really his only mistake.
One of his best additions to Anderson's story is a pipsqueak named Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg from "Roger Dodger"), a glorified news intern Duck has brought with him to help cover the fifth anniversary of the end of the Bosnian war. "You must be the son of someone important," Simon observes (correctly) as he shakes Benjamin's hand.
It's easy to get lost in the movie's zingy blend of the serious and the ironic. Like Simon and Duck, it's got a good heart and sense of fun, and the acting is consistently strong. Howard hasn't been this at ease in a role since his career exploded with 2005's "Hustle & Flow." And although it's hard to swallow the idea of Gere as ever truly being washed up -- he is a guy who makes gray hair and crow's feet look like an Armani suit -- he brings the same kind of conviction to Simon as he did to last year's "The Hoax." This American gigolo has really evolved.
Reach Mary F. Pols at email@example.com or 925-945-4741.
'THE HUNTING PARTY'
Starring: Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Jesse Eisenberg, James Brolin
Director: Richard Shepard
Rated: R for strong language and some violent content
Opens today: In Bay Area theaters
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes