The Hunting Party (2007)

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Released 10-Jul-2008

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller/Action/Cmdy Main Menu Audio & Animation
Deleted Scenes- (05:24) Seven scenes 2.35:1 and 16x9 in Dolby Digital 2.0
Featurette-Making Of-(08:58) Cast and makers comments 1.85:1 and 16x9, DD 2.0
Featurette-(28:29) The Real Hunting Party : 1.85:1 and 16x9, DolbyD 2.0
Theatrical Trailer-(02:20) 2.35:1, 16x9, DD 2.0 : Female roles promoted
Theatrical Trailer-Reservation Road : 1.85:1, 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Theatrical Trailer-Never Back Down : 1.85:1, 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Theatrical Trailer-Rendition : 2.35:1, 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating ?
Year Of Production 2007
Running Time 96:43
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (70:49) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Richard Shepard
Studio
Distributor
Weinstein Company
Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Richard Gere
Terrence Howard
Jesse Eisenberg
Gordana Vukres
Diane Kruger
James Brolin
Sanela Seferagic
Damir Saban
Aleksandra Grdic
Dylan Baker
Scott Anderson
Harald Doornbos
Philippe Deprez
Case ?
RPI ? Music Rolfe Kent


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes, Very moderate
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, 8 essential minutes before main title, rest at end

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

"Only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true."
Foreward


Two grossly overused terms applied to movies today are "based on a true story" and "thriller"! Three cheers for The Hunting Party, a film which deserves both descriptions. The story is basically true, with two of the reporters who actually lived it appearing in the documentary The Real Hunting Party. Even better is that it is also a genuine thriller, a term first used in the 40s to describe the nail biting tension of Alfred Hitchcock's classics, but sadly today seems to be applied to any movie containing a car chase. In The Hunting Party the dread and tension of more than one scene had me on the edge of my seat, life or death hanging in the balance for one, or all, of our three protagonists. This is exciting, suspenseful, dramatic action entertainment which is solidly based on fact - and, amazingly, it's also very funny. This is one of the best movies of the year.

The film opens with a death in the very first frame as we are instantly plunged into a fantastic action filled war sequence, magnificently staged and filmed. A brilliantly written and performed voice over narration by "Duck" (Terrence Howard) recounts his 1990s experiences as cameraman for television news reporter Simon Hunt (Richard Gere). For nine years these two have been "covering wars from El Salvador to Desert Storm to the killing fields of Bosnia". For Duck his association with Simon has been a combination of dedication, excitement and pure adrenalin rush - "Simon gave me balls I never knew I had." This all came to an end in Bosnia on a 1994 winter's day - "one winter of tragedy". Simon witnesses the aftermath of a horrifically brutal slaughter of innocent civilians, and then has to do an on air "live" report. With every word being filmed by Duck, Simon "snaps". His on-air meltdown results in his being fired by the network, while Duck gets "the other end of the spear" and is promoted to a "soft" job in New York, working with the network's face-lifted anchorman, Franklin Harris (James Brolin).

We jump ahead five years. It is the fifth anniversary of the end of the war in Bosnia and Duck is arriving back in Sarajevo as cameraman for Harris, along with novice newsman Benjamin (Jesse Eisenberg), son of the network's vice president and on his first foreign assignment. Once this assignment is completed Duck has planned a romantic rendezvous with his beautiful girlfriend in Greece. After a jovial evening in a bar Duck returns to his hotel room astonished to find waiting for him his old comrade, Simon. We learn that since his disgrace Simon has been freelancing in any and every war zone, selling his reports to whatever agency or network might be interested. Simon tells Duck that he has a lead that will result in the greatest story of their lives. He knows where and how they can find Bosnia's most wanted war criminal, known simply as "The Fox" (Ljubomir Kerekes), who is in hiding with a five million dollar bounty on his head. Duck has to make the choice between his lover in Greece, or a reunion with his old friend which could lead to not only huge financial gain, but more importantly renewal of the old camaraderie. It is the ties that bind that decide Duck to go with Simon, with Benjamin joining them to get the "front line" initiation he hopes will please his father.

So, in a rather beaten up yellow Mercedes (what else?) this trio set out to seek The Fox. What ensues is a genuine rollercoaster ride of excitement, through the sometimes beautiful countryside and the war shattered towns of Bosnia. Our Fox-hunting trio meet a wide variety of generally mysterious and threatening characters, get in some dire predicaments, face death more than once and ultimately confront their prey in his lair. The enormous strength of this movie is that writer/director Richard Shepard has, from a script with a strong and clear central plot, created a movie that is a combination of excitement, suspense and horror, mixed with sizeable helpings of humour. It is a rare talent that can combine such disparate elements into one sustained and totally entertaining movie, but Shepard is the man who wrote the screenplay for The Matador, a brilliant film with even more extreme "off the wall" elements. There have been other films that have depicted war as a sometimes hilarious hell, as in M*A*S*H, but Robert Altman's classic tended much more toward the comic side of the dichotomy. Here Shepard really does walk a tonal tightrope, with us one second laughing at a ridiculous situation and the next shrinking from a horrific about face. In the conversation "extra", the two actual reporters spend much of the time laughing. Perhaps this is the only way to survive when the stuff of your work is war and its horror.

Shepard's screenplay is a combination of truth and fiction, with "only the most ridiculous parts" of the story being true. The original five reporters have been reduced to three, and there are other choices that have no doubt been influenced by box-office demographics. We have the older, grizzled reporter, the younger black buddy, and the even younger novice. Thank goodness Eisenberg's role wasn't "feminised". It is frightening to think what could have happened : Gere, plus some hip-hop or rap star, plus a sexy exotic nymphet who is also a great kick-boxer ?! We've all seen that before, but thankfully not here.

Director Shepard has served up three excellent performances. Richard Gere, fresh from his dynamic performance in The Hoax, continues on his artistic high as one of the best mature leading men around. No trace of the "star" in sight, Gere so truthfully portrays a man who has had it all, then lost it and is now seeking to reconstruct something from his shattered life. Terrence Howard, his eyes speaking volumes, once again proves, as he did in Crash and Hustle and Flow, that he is one of the best of today's actors. Howard and Gere really have chemistry together and create characters and a relationship that are totally believable, with more on-screen warmth and humour than you would find in a dozen "buddy" movies. Completing the trio is Jesse Eisenberg, so moving in The Squid and the Whale and here in a role that seems to have been written for him. He is totally convincing, and frequently very funny, in his depiction of sheer terror as the not so intrepid human hunters leap frog from one perilous situation to another.

Two major contributions to the overall impact of this film are the cinematography and the original score. Magnificently performed by The Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra, Rolfe Kent's score is one of the most impressive of recent years. At times using smaller orchestrations with, I assume, local traditional influences, elsewhere the score swells to massive symphonic force blasting from all speakers. Kent's last film score was for Reign Over Me, and he is also responsible for the main theme for TV's excellent Dexter. David Tattersall's photography is similarly exciting and inventive, at times using extremely wide-angled lenses. Full use is made of the "scope" image, with important detail at times at the extreme edges of the screen. Starting from the exhilaratingly shot and edited opening sequence, the actions scenes are first rate, including a particularly effective car/truck chase. There is also an artistic use of colour, with the mainly sombre browns and greens occasionally broken by a burst of primary colour. One solitary bad photographic choice is the too clever shot of driver Gere taken from below the dashboard, but that's being horribly picky.

I may have made The Hunting Party sound like a feel good buddy flick. Far from it. There is a totally serious core to this film, but it is the treatment of the material that is so extraordinary - a word I don't like to use. This film is, however, light years from being "ordinary". Not unique, as there have been others - M*A*S*H, The Three Kings, Dr Strangelove to name three - but it is a rare achievement to serve up a statement about the horror of war in a work that is total entertainment, and an exemplary piece of film-making.
This is one hell of a movie!

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Transfer Quality

Video

The video transfer of this movie is excellent, clean, sharp and wonderfully alive - like the film itself.

The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced.
Wonderful use is made of the wide "CinemaScope" image, with key information sometimes at the extreme edges of the frame.
There is also the occasional use of a wide angle lens, which creates an even greater sensation of width.

The transfer is extremely sharp and clear throughout, providing a quite magnificent image.
Shadow detail is outstanding, with great clarity in the dark, mysterious bars and other various grim interiors.
There is no low level noise.
Colour is used imaginatively throughout the film, with the beautifully muted greens and browns, contrasted with the occasional burst of vibrantly vivid colour -as in the abrupt cut to the waters of Greece. There are no irregularities of colour, only these intentional juxtapositions.
Skin tones are excellent within the range of the chosen palette.
The only MPEG artefact noted was extremely slight aliasing (52:08), and there were no film artefacts.

The English Descriptive Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired were sampled and found to be accurate.

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The layer change occurs at 70:49 between chapters 9 and 10 and is barely noticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

The audio is fabulous, one of the best I have heard in a film of this nature.
There are two audio tracks:
English Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448 Kbps; and
English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Encoded at 224 Kbps.

The major viewing of the film was made using the Dolby Digital 5.1 stream.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stream was sampled and was of a comparable standard, though naturally more limited.

The extensive dialogue was always totally natural and the clarity superb. Excellent actors brilliantly recorded.
There were no drop-outs and no sync problems.
I could detect little movement across the fronts, but the surrounds are used extensively.
The rear channels are used aggressively right from the outset with the gunfire whizzing around the room.. One later burst of gunfire (27:50) had me jumping out of my seat.
There is also a tremendous amount of ambient sound in the rear channels, such as rain, mountain streams and birds in the forest (30:50).
One outstanding sequence occurs as suspense is building (83:00) with soft animal noises in the rears, then suddenly it is visual and aural chaos, plus the full orchestra in all channels and truly impressive subwoofer action.
There is a lot of LFE activity, both in the action sequences - such as the car chase (52:30) - and also in the musical score.


Throughout the film Rolfe Kent's truly excellent score is served wonderfully. Magnificently played by The Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra it ranges from simple folk strains to full symphonic glory, and the reproduction is sensational. Just listen to the full orchestral swell in the surrounds at 70:00, and don't jump the final credits or you will miss some great percussion.

Extras

Menu

The Main Menu is presented with full motion and audio of a mix of sound effects and music from the film's score. The menu is presented 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 encoded at 224 Kbps.
The options presented are : Play Film

Scene Selection : There are twelve thumbnailed cues presented on three screens, without animation or audio.
Special Features : This screen has a still from the film with no animation or audio.
The options presented are: Deleted Scenes
The Making of The Hunting Party
The Real Hunting Party
The Hunting Party Trailer
See below for details of these Special Features.

Set-Up :
This screen has a still, with no animation or audio.
Options are : Audio : Dolby Digital 5.1
Dolby Digital 2.0
Captions : On/Off : English Descriptive Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired.
.





Deleted Scenes : (05:24)
Seven short deleted sequences presented 2.35:1, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio encoded at 224 Kbps. The quality is comparable to that of the film.


Documentary : The Making of The Hunting Party : (08:56)

A short but interesting behind the scenes look at the origins of the story and the shooting of the film. Talking heads include director/writer Richard Shepard, Scott Anderson, whose magazine article is the basis for the screenplay, the producers, plus actors Gere, Howard and Eisenberg. Smaller roles were evidently taken by local stage actors.
The interviews and behind the scenes footage is presented 1.85:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. Excerpts from the film are 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced. All audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 encoded at 224 Kbps.

Documentary : The Real Hunting Party : (28:29)

Entertaining, fascinating and totally absorbing is this casual round table - with drinks - conversation between Richard Shepard (writer/director) and two of the actual journalists who lived the story, John Falk and Scott Anderson, author of the original magazine article. With much joviality all round, this half hour flies by and gives a fascinating perspective to the events in the film - and to the humorous tone which pervades much of the film. Presented 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced with excellent visual quality and with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio encoded at 224 Kbps.

Theatrical Trailer: (02:26)

Original theatrical trailer, presented 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio encoded at 224 Kbps.. A very good trailer, giving reasonable expectations for the film. The importance of the female roles is exaggerated, however, with Jesse Eisenberg being unjustly bumped down to fifth billing.

Additional Theatrical Trailers at Start-Up: (Total 06:03)

All three trailers have Dolby Digital 2.0 audio encoded at 224 Kbps.

Reservation Road : Presented 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced.
Never Back Down : Presented 1.85:1, 16x9 enhanced.
Rendition : Presented 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

The Region 4 release misses out on : Full Length Feature Commentary by write/director Richard Shepard. This is said to be excellent.
"What I Did on My Summer Vacation" - the complete original Esquire article by Scott K.Anderson, the basis of the screenplay.
Spanish Subtitles.


The Region 1 release misses out on nothing.

It would be difficult to decide which version to choose before seeing the film. The local release looks and sounds tremendous, and does contain all of the actual film and documentary extras. However, having seen the movie and thinking so highly of it and its writer/director, I would love to have the opportunity to hear his full length commentary.

Summary

This is top entertainment, and one of the best thrillers - a genuine entry in that genre - of recent years. Even better than that, it is a comedy/thriller, packed with suspenseful excitement and the dramatic horrors of war, as well as action, fun and laughs, all set against modern political intrigue. Sounds impossible, but writer/director Richard Shepard has worked a minor miracle in establishing the perfect tone for the combination of all these elements. Absolutely top performances from the three men, all offered in a visually and aurally excellent transfer. Not to be missed.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo-SP500, using Component output
DisplayPhilips Plasma 42FD9954/69c. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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