(Weinstein) Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Jesse Eisenberg, James Brolin, Diane Kruger, Joy Bryant, Ljubomir Kerekes, Kristina Krepela. Directed by Richard Shepard.
There is a certain cache about being a war correspondent. The image of them is being adrenaline junkie thrill-seeking hard-drinking cynics have been perpetuated by the movies and to a large extent, by the media itself. However, what you don’t see on the other side of the camera is only half the story, and not the better half.
Simon Hunt (Gere) is a network reporter who in his life has moved from one war zone to the next, accompanied by his faithful cameraman Duck (Howard). When they reach Bosnia, the atrocities they have been inured to in other conflicts seem to hit home a little bit more, particularly for Simon. After a massacre in a small town perpetrated by a Serbian general nicknamed The Fox (Kerekes), Hunt has a full-on on-air meltdown, leading to his being fired and disgraced.
The intervening years are not kind to Hunt. He goes from one correspondence job to another, each at progressively smaller, less important agencies until he disappears off the radar completely. He exists mainly as a cautionary tale told in journalism schools. For Duck, however, his fortunes improve dramatically. He is promoted and works in a cushy network environment, the top of the food chain for network news cameramen. The deprivations of war are long behind him, almost as if they happened to a different man. He’s even got a sexy girlfriend (Bryant) waiting for him in Greece for a decadent, hedonistic vacation.
First, however he must return to Bosnia to celebrate the fifth year since the end of the civil war there. Network anchor Franklin Harris (Brolin) is doing a report from there to mark the occasion, and Duck is as always behind the camera. Along for the ride is rookie reporter Benjamin Strauss (Eisenberg) who is mainly there because his father is an executive vice-president at the network.
The last person Duck is literally expecting to see is Simon, but there he is. Furthermore, he has a major scoop, a game changer – one that will admit him back into the limelight. However, it is a difficult and dangerous story. The Fox remains at large, one of the war criminals not yet apprehended by the United Nations. Simon claims to know the location of the Fox and thinks he can get an interview. Duck is a bit uncertain but the prospect of the kind of story that would be a career highlight is too much to pass up. Strauss, eager to prove himself, tags along much to the disgust of Simon.
The danger lies in that the Fox is a national hero to the Serbs, and is well protected by maniacal bodyguards and fanatical villagers. The trio must get past U.N. bureaucrats, height-challenged black marketers, homicidal waiters and their own mutual mistrust – and once they find their target, what is Simon really after?
Loosely – verrrrrrrrrrrrry loosely – based on actual events (the reporters involved in the true life story are briefly viewed in a barroom scene), there is a feeling that this is a bit too Hollywood, a bit too cliché to be true. While the real reporters were print journalists (and included Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm and Scott Anderson who penned the Esquire article that inspired the screenwriters), this is meant to be…well, I’m not sure. Partially it’s an indictment of the reluctance of the authorities in the Bosnian region to bring war criminals to justice, but also it seems to be a potshot at the media as well.
The problem here is that the media seems to be more a caricature of our existing preconceptions of who reports the news rather than actual characters. Having worked in the print journalism field and having known more than a few reporters in my time, I can safely say that not every reporter is a hard-drinking cynical Type-A personality as we’ve seen in movies like The Year of Living Dangerously. While the explanation for Simon’s meltdown does humanize him somewhat, you can be quite sure that no news reporter is going to put their cameraman into the line of fire as a joke.
That said, there are some nice performances here. Howard has become in a very short time one of the more reliable actors in Hollywood. Going back to Crash I can’t think of a single lackluster performance the man has given (although to be honest I haven’t seen The Fighter yet). Gere does his best with a severely flawed character, and Eisenberg does his best Michael Cera impression, as always.
Definitely, don’t look on this as an accurate representation of news reporting. About two-thirds of the way through the movie, the film takes a left turn when we find out what Simon’s real mission is and quite frankly, it doesn’t jive with the rest of the film. I think it would have worked a hell of a lot better if they had been seeking an interview with The Fox all along. However, they misfire with a truly awful ending that in an attempt to be satisfying ends up being the complete opposite.
There are some good things about the movie. It is beautifully shot and the subject matter would have been interesting if handled correctly. I can marginally recommend it based on that and the performances. However, be warned that this is a seriously flawed movie – and take it with a grain of salt, or better still a whole shaker of the stuff.
WHY RENT THIS: Howard performs nicely and the European locations are authentic and beautiful. The premise is at least interesting.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A truly awful ending torpedoes the interesting premise, as does their cliché characterization of the entire television journalism field.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some fairly disturbing shots of war atrocities and a goodly amount of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The movie was mostly filmed in Croatia.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
FINAL RATING: 6/10