Hunters might be the best show Amazon's ever done
Al Pacino gives one of the best performances of his career in the Amazon original series about killing Nazis in 1970s NY.
Quentin Tarantino keeps threatening to quit making movies and switch to a TV series instead, but why wait? Amazon’s latest original series, Hunters, is basically a Tarantino movie stretched into 10 hour-long episodes, with all the visual flair and historical revisionism that goes with it.
Created by David Weil (best known for his script rewrites on Bird Box) and produced by Jordan Peele, Hunters arrives binge-ready on February 21, but long episodes and regular bouts of squirm-inducing violence may force you to space out your viewings. Keep watching, though, because Hunters is the best story about killing Nazis since Inglourious Basterds.
Set in late ‘70s New York, Hunters opens on Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), a Jewish high school pot dealer more interested in talking about comics and Star Wars with his friends than asking his grandma (his only living relative) about her experiences in a concentration camp during World War II. But everything changes when his grandma is murdered by an alleged burglar who turns out to be a Nazi-in-hiding. At the funeral, Jonah meets Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), an old friend of his grandma’s and her secret partner in Nazi hunting.
From there, the plot quickly finds its footing as a Nazi-of-the-week serial framed by a looming evil plot that our heroes race to uncover. There’s also a parallel story of an FBI agent investigating the murder of a NASA scientist who turns out to be a former Nazi, but when my screeners ran out after Episode 5, those two stories had only just begun to interlock.
Aside from some heavy-handed tweaks to real history, what Hunters borrows most from Tarantino is his fourth-wall-breaking visual style. Sometimes this works, like when each member of Pacino’s Nazi-hunting team gets a flashy grind-house style intro reminiscent of Basterds.
Other times, it falls flat. One episode is interrupted mid-dialogue for a parody commercial advertising the American heartland as a retirement community for Nazis. It doesn't quite land, though, and probably should have been saved for the bonus features.
Balancing out these visual flourishes are Holocaust flashback scenes that kick off some episodes and unfold alongside the plot of others. Shot with a muted color palette of grays and blues, these scenes show the true brutality of the concentration camps. Younger versions of some cast members get complex backstories as they plot and scheme to survive the horrors of the Holocaust, which range from sadistic human experimentation to a deadly game of human chess played for the Nazis’ amusement.
These flashbacks — and Hunters in general — never attempt to connect the show to the resurgence of white supremacy across the world today or the use of concentration camps by the Trump government to demean, torture, and dissuade immigrants at the Mexico-US border. That feels like a missed opportunity. But perhaps simply showing the horrors of the Holocaust is enough of a message in 2020.
Finally, we need to talk about Al Pacino. Hunters is an ensemble show with a deep bench of great actors (Carol Kane! Josh Radnor!), but Pacino shines brighter than all the rest combined. Far from phoning it in for an Amazon paycheck, he delivers every line with passion and gets some of the best (and goriest) scenes in the series. I can’t unsee the actor stabbing a Nazi through the throat from behind in one swift gesture.
Hunters is more than just the sum of these parts and a few others. (I haven’t even talked about how perfectly evil the Nazi characters all are.) There’s a level of polish here that feels in league with the best work from HBO. It might not be the best show Amazon’s ever made (I’m still partial to Mrs. Maisel), but at just five episodes in, it comes pretty damn close. By the time you finish watching Hunters, you may be a convert. At least until Quentin Tarantino gets around to making his own streaming series.
Hunters premieres February 21 on Amazon Prime.