Amazon Prime exclusive Hunters uses the ‘what if?’ idea of a slightly alternative spin on real life historical events, alongside a heavy dose of conspiracy theory. Featuring a similar technique used by Quentin Tarantino in Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), the plot of Hunters revises actual historical events and rejigs them to fit a new alternative world. Created by first-time writer David Weil and set in the late 1970s, the narrative focuses on the long-term aftermath of the second world war and the deep scars left by the Holocaust, especially within the Jewish community. Only in this fictional universe (and possibly in the not-so-fictional one, according to conspiracy theorists) some Nazi war criminals that escaped are now living the USA in high-profile employment, sharing their skills in science, medicine and aviation.
Nineteen-year-old Jonah (Logan Lerman) and his Holocaust survivor grandmother (Jeannie Berlin) struggle in 1977 New York City. Jonah, a gifted code breaker and math wizard, witnesses the murder of someone close to him, and when the police fail to help he takes matter into his own hands, he is introduced to Al Pacino’s super wealthy Nazi hunter, Meyer Offerman. As Jonah gets caught up in a web of revenge and twisted motivations, he struggles to find his moral grounding and his world is sent spiralling out of control. Offerman becomes his mentor, along with a roster of wildly different personalities who make up a team of experienced Nazi hunters, including a brilliantly unexpected performance from How I Met Your Mother’s Josh Radnor. As the team slowly begin to uncover the infiltration of Nazi leaders into American society and government, they soon find themselves out of their depth. Jonah, who struggles with the group’s ruthlessness towards their adversaries, battles with his own ideas of revenge and drags those he cares about into the fray.
The opening five-minute scene is particularly shocking and sets the tone for Hunters with its pitch-black humour and bursts of intense violence. A family barbeque takes a rather unexpected turn as an individual’s past is uncovered by a stranger, and what follows is alarming yet brimming with the blackest humour. Scenes such as this are reminiscent of Tarantino’s work and it is clear that he, along with exploitation cinema of the 1970s, has influenced the show, especially in its cinematography and general aesthetic . There is a character introduction sequence in an early episode that appears in the form of mini vignettes and doesn’t quite match the rest of the tone and whilst fun, comes across forced and seems as if from a different show entirely. As each of the Nazi hunters are introduced to Jonah, they have their own cartoon-like theme and “poster pose” and this results in delivering an odd tone that feels out of place.
Following the shifting timelines of Hunters is a pleasure, as each episode provides back stories that fuel the need for vengeance of each team member. The flashbacks to the Holocaust featuring Offerman hit especially hard and allow real investment into the team’s mission to quash Nazi momentum in New York. Each time a character is allowed time to reflect we are given an insight into their experiences and it really helps flesh out their personalities. This is valuable as, other than Offerman and Jonah, the remaining cast feel one-dimensional and appear almost like generational caricatures until their past offers much needed context.
Pacino follows his recent form in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and is spectacular, stealing every scene he is in with a powerful yet restrained performance. He is eons away from the ‘Hoo-ahhing’ of the Lt. Col. Frank Slade character played Pacino in Scent of a Woman (1992). His performance is a mixture of paternalistic affection and dark violence.
The show does take an unwelcome detour as Jonah begins to question his own moral compass, and his attempts to treat the Nazis fairly are a little jarring. Maybe that is the point, but as Jonah has personal knowledge of the traumas experienced, its difficult to believe that he would want to take a moral high ground to such an extent. Whatever the motivation, it feels forced and takes up far too much screen time. As Jonah’s morality switches so often with jarring shifts in his beliefs, it makes it difficult to sympathise with his character. Luckily, once these moments of moral conjecture are over the show really picks up. Mid-season, once Jonah establishes his motivations, there is much fun to be had.
Hunters is a polished, confident, and well-acted piece that despite its dark subject matter doesn’t take itself too seriously. Following the shocking, speedy pace of the first episode, it takes until mid-season to build up the right momentum. But once it does, it is highly entertaining.