On paper it sounds like a car crash, a horrible disaster, or worse – a gross indecency that violates the memory of those who died in the Shoah. But in practice, Hunters, a new Prime Video 10-episode TV series starring Al Pacino leading a vigilante band of Nazi hunters and executioners, makes for entertaining, possibly even audacious, television.
Pacino plays Meyer Offerman, a wealthy Holocaust survivor who leads a ragtag assemblage of multicultural, multitalented misfits-cum-assassins on the trail of hundreds of actual Nazis who were brought to the U.S. in a secret program to exploit their medical, scientific, and political skills, and to keep them and their “talents” out of the hands of the evil, postwar Commie Russians.
Among the cast are a Shoah survivor/signals expert played by Carol Kane; a high-level Carter administration official hiding his Nazi past played to the demonic hilt by Dylan Baker; and a snakelike Nazi played by an excessively lithe Lena Olin. The band of Nazi hunters is rounded out by characters selected from central casting – a Japanese-American Vietnam vet; a B-movie actor perfectly named “Lonny Flash”; a sometime black nationalist now devoted to the cause of Jewish vengeance; and a former MI6 agent now using her skills in the service of the Hunters – or is she? The central conflict surrounds the induction of a rising college freshman who works at a comics shop, the murder of whose beloved, late grandmother puts the wheels in motion, as does his veering back and forth between moralist anti-vigilante to enthusiastic torturer.
It’s a nutty show – a long movie, really – that’s one part superhero comic, one part B-movie exploitation film, and a bunch of other parts – including documentary-like flashbacks to Auschwitz; sudden, inexplicable animations; and several bizarre musical and narrative segments that break the fourth wall for seemingly no artistic or aesthetic purpose. These abrupt shifts of tone make Hunters either a tone-deaf, incoherent mess or the most brilliantly meta TV series of all time.
Or, it is perhaps “…. the most egregious distortion of Holocaust history in my lifetime…. I fear its pernicious blend of fact and fiction risks being weaponized by Holocaust deniers,” as writes Stephen D. Smith, executive director of USC Shoah Foundation, which was founded by movie director Steven Spielberg in the wake of the phenomenal success of his Holocaust film, Schindler’s List — which, it must be noted, showed Jews being herded into mass showers in a Nazi concentration camp, where they then succumbed to … showers — the kind you and I take every day (well, you do at least) – the ones that spew water and not deadly Zyklon-B gas. (Perhaps Smith should take another look at his patron’s movie before calling Amazon’s kettle-of-a-film black.)
In spite of all the above, plus its absurd late-in-the-series reveal that all is not what we’ve been led to believe (telegraphed, if you watch and listen closely, early on in the show), Hunters is at heart a great revenge flick, a different take on Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, and, in its own perverse way, a TV series for this very moment.
At the very least, it’s escapist fun at a time during which we are in desperate need of some.