Fans of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) will fall instantly in love with Amazon Prime’s Nazi-killing thriller Hunters. Everyone else is going to have to be patient.
The series stars Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief), Lena Olin, Al Pacino, and a host of others in a graphic drama set primarily in the late-1970s. Much of the action takes place in New York City during the Summer of Sam, as we follow a young man called Jonah (Lerman) seeking answers about the murder of his grandmother. And he soon realises his grandmother wasn’t the quiet, peaceful soul he’d always believed…
As a survivor of the Nazi atrocities in Auschwitz during World War II, his late grandmother Ruth (Jeannie Berlin) carried a burden with her that no amount of time could heal. Channelling her pain to action she helped form a secret group of underground Nazi hunters, along with her dear friend Meyer Offerman (Pacino). Unbeknownst to Jonah and the rest of the world, this small group of highly-trained vigilantes are hot on the trail of Nazis who escaped punishment after the war but will never escape the wrath of their victims.
The similarities between the new series, which boasts Jordan Peele (Get Out) among its executive producers, and Tarantino’s movie about Nazi hunters in France, go way beyond the subject matter. Hunters embraces both Tarantino’s passion for grindhouse-style violence and blood-splatter, as well as his dark and twisted humour.
While that style works for enthusiastic members of Tarantino’s tribe, it could be off-putting for others. Some could be offended not so much by the violence itself, but the comic-book manner in which it’s depicted. For the most part, scenes involving the torture and killing of Jews during WWII is handled with a degree of severity and reverence these real-life events deserve… but the violence taking place in the “present-day” of 1977 is often handled with a more juvenile sense of pleasure. Watch us a stab a Nazi in the throat and have some laughs!
Like most TV series, Hunters is under the behind the camera care of multiple directors. And it’s possible they weren’t all on the same page with the tone and feel of the show. This conclusion seems plausible because of how the Tarantino-influenced splatter and gallows humour almost disappears by the fourth episode. Or maybe I just got numb to it? Either way, Hunters isn’t for the faint of heart or stomach, but it does mature and takes itself a bit more serious as the season progresses.
As the biggest star of the series, a lot of attention is paid to Pacino’s Offerman. However, despite being the maestro behind the group, he’s really not the central character (that falls on Lerman’s Jonah). Still, Pacino is far from a pedestrian in this series, and his performance is complicated. Early on, Pacino’s take on Offerman feels clumsy and heavy-handed; the kind of the performance he’s delivered far too often in the later years of his career. But as the show goes on, Pacino grows more comfortable in his character’s shoes and he’s not pressing as hard. Everything from the accent to the physical movements of Offerman (who was physically and mentally tortured by the Nazis) becomes more natural for Pacino and his performance becomes less of a distraction and more of an asset. By the conclusion, Pacino finds a great rhythm to the character and delivers a final product worthy of his acclaim.
One of the most entertaining aspects of Hunters are the Nazi hunters themselves. Led by Huffman, who uses his wealth and resources to not only put the group together but also to fund their missions, the ‘Hunters’ are an eclectic group of misfits and cast-offs. There’s a Dirty Dozen (1967) or even Reservoir Dogs (1992) feel to their ensemble.
Fans of the show will gravitate towards their own personal favourite “hunter’, but the chemistry between the only married couple of the team is undeniable. Murray and Mindy Markowitz (played brilliantly by Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane) quickly become surrogate parents for orphaned Jonah. They provide a level of love and compassion that’s surprisingly touching for a show driven by plot and action over sentiment.
The Markowitz’s help Jonah come to terms with both his anger and his grief. Plus their banter between missions—on everything from the complexity of an assigned task to the existence of God—jumps out as some of the season’s best dialogue. It takes three to four episodes for Hunters to give the Markowitz’s their fair due, to be fair, but as the series goes on they shine brighter.
The most glaring weakness of season 1 is the time spent developing the villains. The Nazi’s play like so many film and TV cliches we’ve seen before: bright blue eyes, perfect skin, thinly veiled evil smiles, etc. The guards, the officers and “doctors” from the concentration camps have assumed new identities in America. Some with families… some alone… but all placed in strategic positions to play key roles in the rise of the Fourth Reich.
But none of the antagonists is as colourful or memorable as the Hunters. Even the Colonel (Olin) feels like a forgettable Bond villain. While this is a glaring weakness it’s one that will hopefully be addressed in season 2.
Although Hunters fails to live up to its full potential, it proves to be worth a watch… especially for viewers who can tolerate the stumbling, immature nature of the first few episodes. But full judgement must be reserved for now.
Cast & Crew
writers: David Weil, Nikki Toscano, Mark Bianculli, David J. Rosen, Zakiyyah Alexander, Eduardo Javier Canto, Ryan Maldonado & Charley Casler.
directors: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Wayne Yip, Nelson McCormick, Dennie Gordon, Millicent Shelton & Michael Uppendahl.
starring: Logan Lerman, Jarrika Hinton, Lena Olin, Saul Rubinek, Carol Kane, Josh Radnor, Greg Austin, Tiffany Boone, Louis Ozawa, Kate Mulvany, Dylan Baker & Al Pacino.