Hunters – Season 1

Rating:

Watch your backs, Nazis

Main Cast: Logan Lerman, Al Pacino

Creator: David Weil

For some reason there were about 5,000 ads for this series on my Twitter feed leading up to its release on Amazon Prime Video on February 21st. And I admit it, it worked. I really wanted to watch Al Pacino hunt some Nazis.

Hunters is an Amazon Prime Video original series set in the 1970s in New York City. The series opens in dramatic fashion as Biff Simpson (Dylan Baker) gets outed as a Nazi by a guest at a family barbecue. He does not take it well. We then meet Jonah, a young man living in NYC with his grandmother Ruth (Jeannie Berlin), an Auschwitz survivor. When she is murdered, Jonah learns of her other life – as a hunter of Nazis living in the United States. The series takes off from there, with Jonah meeting his grandmother’s fellow hunters and deciding whether or not he wants to join them.

The premise here is really intriguing. Borrowing from stories of real life Nazi hunters over the years, Hunters offers a picture of brutal revenge by those most victimized by the Third Reich as they relentlessly pursue their torturers. There are also plentiful flashbacks to the horrors of the concentration camps and the nightmares of those who survived. There has been some controversy about the literary license taken with these stories. I understand the objections from those who want to avoid creating fodder for Holocaust deniers, but also understand the need to make the atrocities visceral in a format where people have become numb to violence.

A potentially bigger problem is the framework into which the story of real events has been placed. While the show is inspired by those people, it layers them into an broadly fictional conspiracy. There’s an entanglement of fact and fiction that works on some levels and legitimizes the concerns of those who worry about fueling misinformation. Hopefully people can just be smart enough to separate the clear fiction from the more nuanced bits of fact.

Despite all these potential pitfalls, Hunters is also just a television series, and must be taken as such. The period set design is pretty great, with cars and clothes and NYC looking pretty darn groovy. The performances are generally solid, and in some cases outstanding. Dylan Baker is one of the slimiest bad guys to show up on the small screen in some time, bested in villainy only by Greg Austin as Travis, a stone cold psychopath and true believer in the Nazi cause.

Logan Lerman takes a little time to come into his own as Jonah, which is appropriate to the storyline. Al Pacino chews some scenery and it looks like he enjoys every minute. My favorite performances come from Carol Kane and Saul Rubinek as camp survivors and the only married part of the Hunters team. The veteran actors give their characters a lot of depth and their pain feels more true than anything else in the series.  

Hunters is terribly violent, so beware. Some of the violence comes off as cartoony, but a lot of it is really brutal, particularly that carried out by the hunters. It isn’t a game to them and they do not kill without emotion.

Do I recommend Hunters? It depends. The violence is plentiful, and the flashback scenes to the camps are searingly painful. Yet, the series offers a good reminder that our government was instrumental in bringing war criminals to the United States, and “operation paperclip”, which is central to this first season, was an actual program shielding Nazi scientists in this country. I’m not entirely convinced that the mixture of reality with conspiracy fantasy is a good idea, or that it completely works. I’m interested to see where they take it in season 2.

Hunters is streaming on Amazon Prime Video

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