Al Pacino hunting Nazis.
That’s all I needed to hear to get excited for Amazon Prime Video’s new series Hunters. I was lucky enough to be able to screen the first five episodes in advance of the February 21 release. Now, let me first say that I won’t reveal any spoilers – first because I hate when people do that, but also because the studio will unleash a firestorm from hell on me if I do.
The series is set in New York City in 1977 when my hometown was not at its finest. I remember those days as a kid when the graffiti-laden subways were a microcosm for the decaying city itself. Crime was rampant, Times Square didn’t have an Olive Garden – and this was all before the crack epidemic hit the streets. Hunters transports the viewer to this place in time in an almost comic-book fashion. It’s a highly stylized show that really wants to take you back to 1977. I was watching and thinking right away of Quentin Tarantino – both for the visuals and also for Inglorious Basterds. Tarantino’s Nazi-bashing film cannot be avoided when watching Hunters and especially when Pacino’s character, Meyer Offerman, proudly claims that “revenge is the best revenge.”
Hunters tells the story of a ragtag crew, led by a mysterious and wealthy Holocaust survivor as they hunt down Nazis living in the United States while also attempting the thwart an underground mission to create a Fourth Reich. Are you still with me?
It’s a lot to unpack, but it’s also ingenious. We know now in 2020 that the real Nazi hunters are almost obsolete, but for decades it was a true profession. What we don’t know is how much of Hunters is based on true life events and characters, and how much is fictionalized. It’s thought that the Meyer Offerman character is loosely based on Simon Wiesenthal for example. We also know the story of “The Jewish Avengers,” a group of 50 survivors who set out to kill millions of Germans by poisoning the water supply. Of course, there was Mossad – who systematically tracked down Nazis all over the world. What we don’t know is how many private citizens took it upon themselves to hunt down Nazis and Nazi collaborators. It is thought that over 10,000 made their way to a safe haven in the United States, some of which helped directly by our own government (see Operation Paperclip).
Pacino is somewhat convincing as an old New York Jew – but I don’t think his true acting chops are being utilized to their well-known capacity, I’ve been waiting for some Scent of a Woman “hoo-ahs” for example. The supporting cast has several familiar faces – the most surprising being Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother fame as Lonny Flash.
The concept of Hunters is strong enough that some of the schtick isn’t necessary. Don’t expect this series to be 100% dramatic in nature despite the seriousness of the storylines. We also get a heavy dose of Yiddish and Hebrew and all-around Jewishness – something that has become more common on Amazon Prime Video than on any other platform. Just off the top of my head, two of the Jewiest shows in television history are The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Transparent. And throw in The Man in the High Castle for good measure. Remember, Jerry Seinfeld didn’t say the word “Jewish” until several seasons into his eponymous show. It’s wonderful to see all of these specifically Jewish shows with specifically Jewish characters and specifically Jewish stories being told in popular and important series.
Hunters is brutal, sometimes violent. It’s humorous, but sometimes way over the top. It’s thought-provoking and sometimes even hard to watch. But in this day and age where we’ve debated whether it’s ok to punch a (Neo-)Nazi in public, it’s also something that will never escape us. What would you do if given the opportunity to exact some revenge? Some Holocaust scholars attest that worse than the perpetrators were the bystanders who did nothing to stop the atrocity. Would you stand by and watch? Would you step in and participate? Or would you simply walk away?