Political Film Society - Newsletter #286 - September 15, 2007

September 15, 2007


The Hunting Party From 1985, when the Dayton Peace Accords ended the Bosnian War, Radovan Karadžić (aka the Fox), Bosnian Serb leader, has had a $5 million bounty on his head for war crimes (ethnic cleansing, rape, body mutilation, etc.) yet remains at large despite the presence of American troops and UN personnel in Bosnia. Why? The Hunting Party, directed and written by Richard Shepard, attempts to answer the question by dramatizing an escapade of five American journalists, as reported in an article in Esquire by Scott Anderson. With occasional voiceovers by Duck (played by Terrence Howard), cameraman for TV news reporter Simon Hunt (played by Richard Gere), the film establishes Hunt as an excellent journalist who loses his cool after his Bosniac girlfriend is gunned down during the war. Hunt, fired for going to pieces during a live TV broadcast, reappears in Bosnia in 1990 just as awardwinning cameraman Duck returns to the country for a commemoration of five years of peace. Believing that he is hot on the trail of Karadžić (played by Ljubomir Kerekes), Hunt persuades Duck and a youthful sidekick Benjamin (played by Jesse Eisenberg) to join him in the manhunt into Bosnian Serb territory (the actual filming outside of Sarajevo is in Croatia). In the process, he runs into Boris (played by Mark Ivanir), a UN official who, salivating that they are CIA agents, unofficially leads them to Mirjana (played by Diane Kruger), an erstwhile girlfriend of one of the Fox’s bodyguards. She assumes that Hunt’s party consists of CIA agents, word spreads that they are after Karadžić, and his goons soon capture all three. The Fox orders Hunt killed, but the real CIA rescues them without also capturing Karadžić. The next part of the story is apocryphal but will be well received by filmviwers hoping for closure over the puzzling noncapture of the Fox. Boris suggests that the deal at Dayton was to allow Karadžić immunity from prosecution if he would step down (as he did) as the Bosnian Serb leader. Titles at the end provide photos of four of the five journalists mistaken for CIA agents featured in the Esquire article, indicate that the UN sent Boris to an African posting immediately after the incident, and hint that the search for Osama Bin Laden is phony. The Hunting Party, accordingly, has been nominated by the Political Film Society for best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2007. MH

In The Valley of ElahIn the Valley of Elah, directed by Paul Haggis, is a combination of Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989) but focuses on the Iraq War. One day, Hank Deerfield (played by Tommy Lee Jones) receives a telephone call from a New Mexico military base that his son Mike (played by Jonathan Tucker) is AWOL, though he has returned home from Iraq without informing his parents in Tennessee. A member of the army’s Criminal Intelligence Division (CID) in Vietnam, Hank then drives to the base to locate his son. During the early part of the film, when almost inaudible televised remarks by George W. Bush extol the virtues of the American intervention in Iraq, the army provides no further information about his son. What can he do? To galvanize the CID on the base, he telephones a buddy only to find that he has also retired from the army and knows nobody in the current CID. He pleads with Emily Sanders (played by Charlize Theron), a recently appointed detective of the Bradford Police Department to investigate, but she counters that the matter is in the army’s jurisdiction. Then a body surfaces; though chopped up, burned, with bites taken out of the flesh by wild animals, the city police fail to investigate because the body is found on the military base. Military police identify the body as that of Mike but promise no further investigation. Knowing that the military often covers up wrongdoing, Hank then begs Emily to drive him to the place where the body was found. In doing so, he quickly points out to her that several important clues have been ignored. Out of guilt for her mistake, she then gets permission to reopen the case and even invites Hank to a dinner at home, where he meets her young son David (played by Devin Brochu). While she attends to housework, he is asked to read from a children’s story but instead tells him the story of David and Goliath, in which the Philistines and Israelites were encamped on opposite sides of the Valley of Elah until David, a mere boy who conquers his fear of the enemy giant, uses a stone to fell Goliath with his slingshot, a paradigm that filmviewers will understand as the way in which Iraqis are defeating Americans. As Emily’s investigation proceeds, Hank obtains sufficient film footage from his son’s cameraphone in Iraq to conclude that the assignment in Iraq is destroying the souls of the American army, who quickly learn that the situation is “fucked up,” whereupon they take drugs to survive, and return to America in search of alcohol, women, and even to sell drugs that they bring back. Eventually, Emily and Hank discover the soldier who killed his berserk son and at least one accomplice, but Hank returns home to fly the American flag upside down in front of a school, a sign of a country is in distress. In the Valley of Elah has been nominated by the Political Film Society for best film exposé, best film on human rights, and best film on the virtues of peaceful resolution of conflict. MH