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Hunters 2020 ****

‘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.

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  1. I managed to make it about an hour into the first episode. The premise was rather silly and over the top. It seemed fun, though, so I rolled with it.

    I feel like parts of this want to be a dark off-beat comedy. And that would be alright. But then they try to play it up as being a serious political thriller at the same time. There’s no consistency.

    And the characters are unbelievable. There’s a rookie FBI agent who somehow knows about obscure NASA research and knows somebody was gassed to death just by looking at a pane of glass. Seriously?

    And there’s a Congressman who likes to go bowling with a bunch of random doofuses, for some reason. They all get punched out *with a bowling ball* by a thug who pointlessly insists on wearing bowling shoes before making his threat. And then bowls a strike before walking away.

    He’s sent by a villain who just killed his wife, three young children, and four party guests with one shot each, sat there for 24 hours, then insisted on being shot once in the left arm as a cover story. Was the mysterious crack shot assassin (or even more ridiculously, the “random black man”) just off his game while trying to kill the only meaningful target in the scene? Does the coroner not notice that the other victims have been dead for quite a while? Have the writers ever fired a handgun before?

    And the kid. He’s seen Star Wars and sells dope incompetently. Fair enough. But then he solves all crime in New York by looking at a bus line map for 3 seconds. Then he goes back to being clueless again until he instantly solves a Torah puzzle to open a secret passageway. Is he the naïve youth who will come of age? Is he Indiana Jones and Hercules Poirot rolled into one?

    Like I said, I’m fine with a campy over the top comedy. But this oscillates too much between being a Bugs Bunny cartoon and a Tom Clancy novel.

    • I’d agree with all of the inconsistencies you catalogue, and could add plenty more. I guess maybe a young audience might buy into it, but elects here like history and Pacino will attract a knowledgable crowd who will find the inexperienced hero’s success to be, as you say, ridiculous. Good premise, but comic-book execution. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Yep, I found it compelling enough to watch twice, concentrating on the many sub plots the 2nd time, e.g. Project Paperclip’s in your face under your nose horrible swept under most rugs audacity, Chile’s Colonial Dignidad, and words voiced by Pacino “revenge is the best revenge.” Jonah (Percy Jackson) was the moral foil whose 3rd eye remained half closed thru most of the series. The theme the series spoke to me in the form of a dark noir comedy with a dollop of Watchmen & Inglorious Bastards was ‘what if we were more vigilant, more revenge focused in hunting/killing unabashed war criminals? It’s good it made folks squirm; it’s good Weil reminded us about a grisly past that’s spilled into the present, despite some awkward scenes (he’s new). I appreciated the liberties taken, the acid humor relief, though many didn’t seem to get it, and must admit, I didn’t fully see the twist at the end coming… Watch it and know the worst thing filmed wasn’t the worst that happened, was left unrevenged… Great review!

    • Thanks for this comment and a chance to discuss; there’s some hot potatoes included in this plot, namely that the US govt might have felt it was safer to have Nazi scientists inside the tent, pissing out as it were, and put them to use on NASA’s space programme. That’s a whole conspiracy theory of its own, and I’d hope that if the story continues, they’d flesh that one out a bit more. I think there was at least one moment in each episode where I felt; they’ve gone too far, but maybe I should give it the space that Tarantino asks for, almost an alternate universe of nazi-hunting. Wish I’d thought of ‘acid humour relief’ when I wrote my review, you nailed it, and its a specific Jewish humour that they really got right. And yet, using concentration-camp stories to inform the heist-movies cliches stuck in my craw a little. It’s a big, expensive mash-up of zeitgeisty ideas that Amazon promoted heavily, and yet I’m not hearing many satisfied customers for; it’s not for any lack of outrageousness!

  3. I’ve pretty much stopped trying Amazon originals. They all end up having stuff that I find unpalatable and what I’m willing to put up with.

    Thank goodness for old standbyes like Stargate and Farscape 😀

    • There’s absolute A list talent here and 10 hours of 1977 won’t come cheap. And yet there’s a few elements in here that are likely to repell potential viewers, it’s hard to know who would be totally satisfied by this.

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