I waffled for a while over the trailer for HUNTERS when it originally dropped. On the one hand, a television show starring Al Pacino as a Nazi hunter sounds exactly like the cathartic content we could hope for in the current societal hellscape we live in. On the other hand, how much more Nazi-related revisionist pop culture media should we reasonably continue to consume? That said, when the opportunity arose to watch the first few episodes, I invariably jumped at the chance to give the series a whirl.
If my review could be six words or less it would read: HUNTERS is, in a word, dense. Each episode is no less than an hour-long, and there are a lot of moving storylines; we’re ushered back and forth between different present-day (well, 1970s) timelines, in addition to various scenes set during the Holocaust. To try and put the plot of HUNTERS simply would likely be a disservice to what it’s attempting to accomplish, but for the sake of following this article: HUNTERS follows Jonah (Logan Lerman), comic book nerd and grandson of a Holocaust survivor, as he navigates his way through her murder and into the inner sanctum of a group of Nazi hunters she used to belong to.
Like most rag-tag teams, the hunting crew is comprised of a unique cast of characters. There’s Holocaust survivor and leader Meyer Offerman (played patiently by Al Pacino), veteran Joe Torrance (Louis Ozawa), Roxy Jones (Tiffany Boone), faded actor Lonny Flash (Josh Radnor), weapons power couple Mindy (the incomparable Carol Kane) and Murray Markowitz (Saul Rubinek) and Sister Harriet (Kate Mulvany). There’s entirely too much to say about every single performance, but Josh Radnor’s cringy and ineffectual Lonny Flash simultaneously has too many lines while also never really saying anything much more significant than a scoff. Carol Kane has literally none of the screen time she frankly deserves. Pacino moves with an almost blasé energy through each scene. It would have been great to see him in a role like this when he wasn’t so, what’s the word, subdued? There’s a quietness that seems ill-fitting for a character like Meyer. We get a brief glimpse of intensity here and there, but I can’t help but feel like there’s a passion lacking from his character I can’t understand. At any rate, we proceed to follow the Hunters as they discover and subsequently hunt down Nazis who have assimilated into America. And — as one might expect in a show about Nazis — as we move through the plot a larger, complex narrative begins to unfold. Jonah slowly but surely is presented with two realities his grandmother lived in that she’d long tried to protect him from: her time in concentration camps and her time as a Nazi killer.
Throughout the show, we’re challenged to consider the concepts of good and evil through a myriad of symbolic representations such as the police force, superheroes, and, interestingly enough, through chess. It’s no surprise to see this since the series features the touch of Executive Producer Jordan Peele, but unlike all the horror references in Us that keep us tied to the storyline, HUNTERS feels conversely all over the place. This is what makes this review a hard one to write — there are a lot of elements to the show that work, but many of the ways it chooses to navigate itself thematically feels so on the nose it throws the viewer out. For example, there’s a scene where Jonah’s best friend tells him, ‘I don’t know why you’re acting like a Robin when you know you’re Batman.” I’m not exactly a ‘show don’t tell’ proselytizer, but every once in a while a message like that would come through and you’d kind of be like, well, yeah okay. I’m sad to report that there are some more successful bits of meta-commentary in the series that I can’t touch on for the purposes of this article, but rest assured they’re very good, worth tuning in to watch, and you’ll know them when you see them.
Then there are the scenes set in the concentration camps. I will put a PSA out there now that there are a lot of potentially triggering portrayals of the Holocaust in HUNTERS — truthfully more than I anticipated there would be. As a non-Jewish person, it’s hard for me to discuss the appropriateness of such depictions, but my Jewish watching companion likely put it best: “It’s trauma-porny.” To that end, I’ll also say that at times the violence felt grating, though I understand that looking at the reality of the Holocaust is very important — I’m just not sure it always served the plot as well as it could.
On a brighter note, stylistically and aesthetically, I love watching the show. The opening titles are a dead giveaway that whoever is at the helm of these episodes are David Fincher fans. Big, red block letters cover the entire opening scene, reminiscent of the dense title cards from Fincher’s Mindhunter. Though he’s not the only person to utilize this, Fincher is certainly notable, especially given the neo-noir subject matter. Hunters moves a lot like Fincher’s Mindhunter, each location accented by those big-block texts. Unfortunately, that’s where the comparison between the two ends.
At times it feels that HUNTERS is uncertain about what kind of show it wants to be at its heart: a meta-critical analysis of the current political and social climate or an action-packed revenge story; one could make the argument it’s striving to be both of these things, but that’s a tall order, even under the watchful eye of Jordan Peele. HUNTERS fails to navigate the avenues of social critique in a way that feels smart and measured, like Get Out; however, since it’s so compelled to fixate on messaging, it doesn’t quite capture the fuck-yeah-kill-em-all-ness of Inglorious Basterds. This is due in part to the fact that we don’t meet the titular hunters until the very end of the staggeringly timed 1.5-hour pilot episode — or pilot movie I quipped, dad-like, to my watching companion.
Ultimately, I’m not sure I’d necessary elect to continue watching HUNTERS beyond the first five episodes once they all become immediately available, though the cliff hanger I’ve been left on is compelling — and certainly heading to a place that feels like it could be worth watching with a little more refinement and focus. HUNTERS arrives on Amazon Prime February 21, 2020.