Amazon UK TV review: Hunters
James R | On 19, Feb 2020
This spoiler-free review is based on the opening five episodes of Hunters.
“Darth Vader doesn’t get up every day looking to destroy the galaxy. He gets up believing he needs to save it.” Those are the words of the nerdy Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman) in 1977 New York, as he talks finding a new perspective through pop culture with his mates, Cheeks (Henry Hunter Hall) and Arthur (Caleb Emery). They’re also the words that kick off a twisting, brightly-coloured thriller about a band of Nazi hunters seeking justice for the Holocaust. If that sounds like an unusual mix, you’re not wrong: Hunters, Amazon Prime Video’s new series, is knowingly, actively, unashamedly unusual. It’s bolder than an Arial Black headline on the front page of Washing Powder Monthly, not so much raising questions about the line between justice and revenge or good and evil as shouting them loudly through a megaphone.
Jonah’s life is turned upside down when his grandmother is killed by a sinister man in her living room, leading Jonah to cross paths with Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), the leader of a secret group of vigilantes. Meyer met Jonah’s gran in Auschwitz and, since they survived, the two have been tracking down Nazis in America, Nazis who are now undercover, pretending to be God-fearing citizens of the US of A.
The Hunters Meyer has assembled is a ragtag bunch of outsiders, including Lonny Flash (Josh Radnor), a semi-failed actor with a penchant for disguise, Roxy Jones (Tiffanny Boone), a civil rights activist, Mindy (Carol Kane), who survived the Holocaust with her husband, Murray (Saul Rubinek), and Joe Torrance (Louis Ozawa Changchien), a Vietnam veteran who’s good in a fight. Oh, and there’s Sister Harriet (Kate Mulvany), a former MI6 agent dressed as a nun. There’s a comic book vibe to the ensemble, and Hunters leans into it; this is an origins story for a superhero of sorts, as Jonah grows through his trauma and loss to become something stronger.
Creator David Weil was inspired to make the show by his own grandma, who survived the Holocaust and told him stories of her life and the horrors of the concentration camps as a child. There’s something deeply moving about the way Hunters frames that survival – living life with hope and a resilient belief in doing the right thing – as an act of heroism. But Weil fuses it with the language and style of a superhero thriller, by way of 1970s Grindhouse. Tarantino-esque violence floods the frame on a regular basis, while Jonah imagines the hunters’ antics as a spoof movie trailer, and every period pop song available accompanies a myriad of inappropriate things.
Lots of those things are carried out by Travis (Greg Austin), a neo-Nazi who likes to deliver monologues about flamingoes while wielding a bowling bowl. And, every time we change location, large titles announce the new place like a panel in a graphic novel.
It’s a blend that’s borderline tasteless but undeniably memorable, and Weil’s stakes in the whole project just about keep the show on the right side of that line, even as it lurches wildly between tones. That’s partly because, as over-the-top as our protagonists are, the Nazi atrocities are treated with that same graphic brutality; there’s never any sense of the show wanting to make light of what happened in the Holocaust, instead showing us shocking sequences involving a sadistic chess game and singing contest.
The Nazis who are embedded in American society are a grotesquely foul bunch, with Dylan Baker not holding back as Biff Simpson, the most senior and powerful of the lot. Pacino also isn’t afraid to go all out as Meyer Offerman, a kindly old man with secrets of his own to hide. And yet it’s testament to both actors that neither distract from the rest of the cast, managing to be just understated enough to let the wider ensemble make an impact, from Jerrika Hinton as Millie Malone, a black FBI agent who has her own experience of being an outsider, to Kate Mulvany’s enjoyably stern Sister and Josh Radnor’s amusingly insecure Lonny.
The group move from a corner shop showdown to a bank heist by way of a garden party kidnapping, and Weil’s script finds pace and novelty in the way it slides between genres and inspiration, even if some of those jumps are a bit jarring (the 90-minute opening episode is an intimidating obstacle some may not get past).
Holding it all together, crucially, is Logan Lerman, who brings angst and pain to Jonah’s journey of discovering his heritage, learning to understand that inherited anger and determination to survive. His character keeps the superpower of storytelling at the front and centre of Hunters, reminding us that whether it’s a comic book or a movie, stories have power; the very act of passing down memories to the next generation, keeping them alive, is a force to be reckoned with, particularly in an age where Holocaust deniers still exist. Hunters tells its particular story with a striking, original, ambitious flair, laced with harrowing historical details and deceptively personal conviction. Does it do so with a sombre, reflective mood? No. Does it answer its own questions about morality and vigilantism? Not necessarily. Does it manage to get the balance between humour, Holocaust remembrance, satisfying revenge and period thrills spot-on? Possibly not. But there’s fun in just how audacious the series dares to be, and you can guarantee you’ll be thinking about it for a long time after watching.
Hunters is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription from Friday 21st February.