It’s America in 1977, and Nazis are living in secret across the country. A group of Nazi hunters led by Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino) is determined to root out the war criminals of the Third Reich living among everyday citizens. The hunters’ newest recruit is Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), whose grandmother was murdered by a stranger with connections to the resurgent Nazi threat.
We’ve seen the first five (of ten) episodes of this big-budget Amazon Prime drama, and it somehow alternates between being an over-the-top action show and a serious drama about the Nazis’ abhorrent treatment of Jewish people without falling apart. In fact, Hunters is very watchable, and these tonal extremes just about work in tandem.
Not everything here is successfully handled. It has a few too many characters, and after an extremely cinematic and focused first episode about Jonah’s initiation into the group, it settles down into a slower Nazi-hunt-of-the-week format that only intermittently hits the heights of its opening episode.
Hunters has a lot on its side, though: the sheer novelty of Pacino taking on his first major TV role, for example, and how it conveys the period setting. The Nazis are portrayed as conspirators hiding in plain sight in a way that’s scary to watch.
Each of the titular hunters has their own reason for being part of the group – but the drawback of having a large ensemble cast is it takes a bit too much time to get a proper sense of each hunter’s inner life. The first episode stands out because it’s mostly about Jonah’s superhero-style origin story, while subsequent episodes are weighed down by having more characters to accommodate.
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Hunters has a parallel storyline, too, of FBI agent Morris (Jerrika Hinton) trying to uncover both the Nazis living in secret and the hunters tracking them down. This arc isn’t that successful. Morris is one of the better-developed characters in the show, with her own secrets she feels she needs to keep, but this B-plot doesn’t generate much interest because you already know the answer to this mystery: yes, there are Nazis in America, and yes, a group of vigilantes are tracking them down and killing them. She’s trying to figure out the premise of the show.
Hunters isn’t exactly Inglourious Basterds the TV series, even though it features similarly heightened violence, stylistic flourishes and ‘big’ characters.
The Nazis themselves, too, are very well cast opponents, with Travis (Greg Austin) as the cold, terrifying American face of ’70s Nazism who’s shockingly open about the ideologies he lives by (if he was around these days, you just know he’d have a significant social media presence). Dylan Baker plays a needy officer who’s infiltrated the highest level of American government. The Colonel (Lena Olin), meanwhile, steers this secret faction towards the aim of implementing a Fourth Reich.
Hunters is like a superhero team show crossed with the recent Wolfenstein videogames, which themselves blurred the lines between ridiculous comedy and gratuitous violence around this subject. These first five episodes are mostly enjoyable, even if you get the sense you’ll have to wait until the season’s end for all of its threads to really come together.
Season one of Hunters releases on Amazon Prime Video on February 21.