Hunters is the new series from Amazon Prime and stars Logan Lerman as Jonah Heidelbaum, a Jewish teenager living with his grandmother in 1970s New York. Following his grandmother’s murder, Jonah is taken under the wing of Meyer Offerman, played by Al Pacino, an elderly man of considerable wealth, who knew Jonah’s grandmother as a young woman, when they had both struggled to survive the Nazi concentration camps. Fixated upon solving his grandmother’s murder, Jonah soon discovers that she had belonged to a clandestine group of Nazi hunters led by Meyer. For years, these Nazi hunters have been working to unmask and punish some of the most brutal members of The Third Reich who somehow managed to evade justice at the end of World War II and now live seemingly innocent lives, their true identities hidden, in the United States of America.
Hunters could have been one of the most enjoyable shows of the year so far. Yes, the subject matter may be grim, but as Quentin Tarantino proved with Inglourious Basterds, we really shouldn’t worry about taking pleasure in the blood-thirsty deaths of Nazis. Surely that’s something we can all agree on! So why isn’t Hunters the thrilling, slightly trashy piece of Jewsploitation that it might have been?
For a start, series creator David Weil and his team don’t seem to have been able to give Hunters a consistent identity all of its own, both in terms of style and content. In its opening ninety-minute episode, which largely explore Jonah’s life with his grandmother and his grief after her death, the tone is sombre, veering towards drab. Then later it bursts into hectic life with sub-par Tarantino-esque fantasy sequences that feel totally inorganic and are at odds with everything that has gone before. These sudden shifts in style give Hunters an uncertain, schizophrenic feel.
The influence of Tarantino only becomes more obvious as the series progresses. For the most part the dialogue is stilted and self-conscious. The characters don’t so much talk to each other as at each other, but without QT’s familiar rhythms. Lines of dialogue strain to be quotable and there are geeky conversations about 70s pop-culture. The team of Nazi hunters, when they are revealed, are like characters from a Tarantino reject pile. There’s a young British Nun, pretty and posh in the Julie Andrews manner, a cute married couple in late middle age, and a funky black girl with a large afro called Roxy – which is an obvious reference to Pam Grier’s character Foxy Brown; Grier, of course was given a mid-career surge by her starring role in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.
If that all sounds rather fun, well unfortunately the heavy-handed pastiche of better material doesn’t stop there. A parallel story-line about FBI agent Millie Morris (Jerika Hinton), who is investigating the deaths of Nazi’s hiding in America, quite deliberately copies the aesthetics of Netflix’ excellent Mindhunters, complete with exquisite period details and giant titles stencilled on the screen, telling us the current location. However, the investigations carried out in Hunters lack the psychological depth, detail and realism of those depicted in Netflix’s great show. Also, because Hunters is very largely a work of fiction with an overblown central conceit, such attempts at providing the story with historical gravitas are unconvincing and unnecessary.
The lead actors all do well with the material. Logan Lerman convinces as Jonah, a grief-stricken teenager who struggles with the ethics of Nazi hunting. Al Pacino, who adopts a more than credible (at least to this critic’s ear) traditional Jewish accent, is his usual charismatic self. However, one wishes that the script had given him more opportunities to cut loose and chew just a little bit of the scenery as only he can. If there was ever a story that could do with a full Pacino barrage it’s Hunters. The Nazis have much more fun. Greg Austin as Travis, a clean cut, American-born Nazi who acts as a brutal fixer for the Reich, threatening, torturing and murdering his way through the series, is hypnotically watchable. While Lena Olin, who plays the Colonel, and who now leads the Nazis, is sultry, sexy and scary all at once. N.I.L.F anyone?
It should be said that despite its uneven tone, style and substance, there is enough to enjoy in Hunters. The team of Nazi Hunters do, at times, get to use their Nazi killing skills in appropriately satisfying ways. There is one sequence in which Roxy gets locked in a room with a female Nazi and they have no choice but to fight to the death, which provides an example of just the kind of guilty thrills that Hunters should have been designed to deliver. While, on the opposite side of the spectrum, the scenes which depict the atrocities of the death camps are poignant, powerful and, yes, grotesquely compelling in a way that may give the viewer a shiver of discomfort.
Hunters is a flawed, yet entertaining piece of television that can’t decide whether to be trashy or serious and never comes close to living up to its influences. Nonetheless, with its grizzly central idea, some fun characters and strong performances, Amazon Prime’s new series is at least worth a look.
Film ’89 Verdict – 6/10
Hunters is currently available on Amazon Prime Video.