The question isn't "Does Richard Gere warrant an Oscar nomination in 2007?"
The question is "Has Richard Gere potentially cancelled himself out for an Oscar nomination in 2007 with two stellar, award-worthy performances in "The Hoax" and "The Hunting Party," respectively?"
It will be a sad year for Oscar, indeed, should the award season pass without recognition for Gere, seemingly at the top of his game this year, with two outstanding performances in diverse, yet equally demanding roles in two of 2007's indie darlings.
Written and directed by Richard Shephard ("The Matador"), "The Hunting Party" tells the story of two broadcast announcers, Simon Hunt (Richard Gere) and Duck (Terrence Howard). Both men were at the top of their fields covering the war in Bosnia when, seemingly inexplicably, Simon has an on-air meltdown that relegates him to freelancer at smaller stations around the country while video journalist Duck continues his upward climb.
"The Hunting Party" picks up five years after the end of the Bosnian war, and the two men are reunited as part of an anniversary celebration in Sarajevo, along with naive producer Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), a wet behind the ears newcomer whose family name got him the job but who's equally as anxious to prove his worth.
Before long, all three men are tracking down an interview with the infamous Boghanovic (Ljobomir Kerekes), aka "The Fox," a Serbian war criminal allegedly responsible for countless deaths in the region.
A joint distribution from The Weinstein Company and MGM, it will be interesting to see how the studios manage to market "The Hunting Party," a film that beautifully blends social commentary with dark comedy and just enough humanity to actually make one give a damn about the characters.
Much as he did in this year's "The Hoax," Gere manages to take a character who is, undoubtedly, self-absorbed on a certain level and turn him into a character with a surprising degree of vulnerability in the midst of all that ego-driven bravura. So many actors would have been content to lazily make Simon's drive to find "The Fox" about his desire to get back into the big leagues, but Gere takes Shepard's wonderful script and paints a wonderful portrait of a man whose drive to find the elusive war criminal is equal parts passion and professionalism.
I've said this once before in 2007, but I'll say it again...Gere gives a career performance as Simon, and his perfect chemistry with Howard also manages to turn "The Hunting Party" into one of the few buddy flicks to actually work this year.
While Howard's "Duck" (Sorry, I couldn't help myself) is a tad underwritten, Howard does a magnificent job of filling in the missing pieces and adding a wealth of humanity to what could have easily been the typical "best friend" role. Likewise, Eisenberg, fills out the threesome nicely as the spoiled young rich kid just trying to prove he really belongs.
"The Hunting Party" is beautifully shot on location, a fact that affords the film an atmospheric quality that makes the dramatic moments a bit more uncomfortable and the darkly comic moments, which are abundant, just a touch more dark. In the midst of such great tragedy, Shepard wisely finds his comic moments within the context of the experiences, an approach that feels more authentic and less jarring given the dramatic circumstances.
As someone who worked in emergency room crisis intervention for 10 years, I can assure you that some of humanity's darkest moments are also our funniest. This fact isn't lost on Shepard, as he writes and directs the film with nearly perfect touches of humanity, humor, honesty and dignity.
Shepard based the screenplay for "The Hunting Party" on a real life incident, though "The Hunting Party" admittedly contains major changes to the evolution of the story. While the war flashback scenes are a touch less convincing and carry a much heavier tone than the majority of the film, they do also help to drive home that "The Hunting Party" isn't just about the laughs.
Kudos for David Tattersall's stellar camera work, along with Jan Roelfs' authentic production design. Rolfe Kent's score is occasionally a bit busy, a tone that works well in certain parts of the film but feels intrusive during others.
Now that Gere has tracked down "The Fox," the hunt for Oscar begins!
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic