‘It’s a plague, and it’s here!’ shrieks Al Pacino at peak hysteria in Hunters, a ten-hour thriller/drama from Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw productions on Amazon Prime. Released at the tail-end of February 2020, Hunters would have been the subject of considerable controversy if it wasn’t for the pandemic panic which denied oxygen from this comic-book revenge fantasy which runs like an amped-up riff on Marathon Man, The Boys From Brazil and other mid 70’s exploitation of the Nazi-hunting theme.. Hunters has flaws, for sure, but there’s also some compelling stuff, and some flashes of mordant humour which just about make the whole package worth the flight-time.
Pacino is the big draw here as Meyer Offerman, a NYC philanthropist and concentration-camp survivor who recruits Jonah (Logan Lerman) to be part of his Nazi-hunting team in 1977. Jonah has recently lost his grandmother Ruth (Jeannie Berlin) to a home-invader, and without direction, gravitates to Offerman’s team of eccentrics. Some are more developed characters than others; Lonny Flash (Josh Radnor) is an arrogant actor, Kate Mulvany is Sister Harriet, a nun who is an MI-6 agent, Tiffany Boone is Roxy, who has an Afro; none of them have much depth, but Murray and Mindy Markovich (Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane) do. The veteran stars enliven their scenes are two aged, salty, anxious elders who seem like they’re in a more thoughtful show from the others.
Hunters has come in for some strong criticism for trivialising the facts about the Holocaust, and such complaints have traction; it’s surely unnecessary to make up horrors to describe such terrible, well-documented events, and a chess-match with living pieces is one of a number of hugely distasteful visuals. If David Mamet considered Schindler’s List to be ‘Mandingo for Jews’, it’s hard to imagine what he’d feel about the garish comic-book imagery and cod-Tarantino stylistic jazz used here. Peele’s comedy shows he’s rightly sensitive to issues of black representation, but such sensitivity does not seem to extend to Jewish history.
Similarly, there’s some slip-shop scripting here; in June 1977, Flash describes a kidnapping ordeal as resembling Kramer Vs Kramer, a novel unreleased at that time and a movie that won’t be released for another two years. It’s either just careless or deliberate trolling, but neither of these things are welcome in a evocation of the Holocaust. The incorporation of real events like the NYC blackout, is unconvincing and smug, while a late plot-twist is deeply unsatisfying and unmoors the entire show from the original premise. Instead of grounding this twist properly, far too much time is spent on a silly Mission Impossible heist scenario involving a deadly factory that’s too similar to a bank heist in previous episodes.
All that said, the performances carry Hunters through to an unsatisfying resolution. Pacino has lots to do, and does it well, and Lerman is just right as his impressionable charge. And there are moments when Hunters gets the tone spot-on; when Murray and Jonah find a bomb on a NYC subway car, Jonah hands cash to a vagrant to clear the area. ‘Never take cash out on the subway,’ advises Murray in a paternal way as the seconds count down; juxtaposing Nazi-hunting with the mundane day-to-day of life feels a rich seam, and it’s frustrating that Hunters gets side-tracked by so much other juvenile ephemera.