'Hunters' review: A disappointment

'Hunters' review: The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi, but this take on Nazi-killing Jews doesn’t quite cut deep or true

A still from Hunters.

Created by David Weil

Cast: Al Pacino, Logan Lerman, Greg Austin

Score: 1.5/5

 

Historical revisionism is a generally recurring theme in World War II-themed media. Be it Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds where a gang of Jews literally walks into Nazi Germany and mows down anyone wearing swastika-patterned socks, or the Wolfenstein series, where the entire gameplay hinges on killing Nazis with grotesque firepower.

The idea behind these media seem to surround the concept of reversing the role between the Nazis and their victims, and through either clever design or production, they succeed at what they set out to do. Inglourious Basterds is fun, while Wolfenstein is a great way to blow off steam.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about David Weil and Jordan Peele’s Hunters. It tries so very hard to imitate Inglourious Basterds and it’s almost sad to watch that.

The story starts with the brutal murder of Ruth Hidelbaum, Holocaust survivor and grandmother of series lead Jonah Hidelbaum (Logan Lerman) in the 1970s. The shock of having his only family taken from him, mixed with the classic 70s attitude of cops being utterly useless, drives Jonah into the hands of Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), a man who leads The Hunt – a group of Jews, black people and one nun who live to hunt down and kill Nazis living in the United States and are planning to establish a Fourth Reich (because the 1,000-year Reich didn’t work quite as well as Adolf hoped).

Hunters is a very confused show. On one hand, it delivers sermons about humanity and justice and how the millions of Jews buried in the German concentration camps during the Nazi regime cry out from the beyond for respite, but on the other hand, it fumbles ingloriously, trying too hard to give its characters motives to kill Nazis, but only managing to make cartoons out of genocidal maniacs.

To its credit, the show does use Operation Paperclip rather intelligently. It wastes no time in setting up just how far the Reich has infiltrated the US, from common neighbours to Congressmen like Biff Simpson (Dylan Baker) who dine with the President and even American Neo-Nazis in Travis Leich, who is by far the most disturbing Nazi in the series. There is also just enough exposition to explain exactly what Operation Paperclip was, for those not in the know.

As for its characters, other than Dylan Baker, Greg Austin and Al Pacino, most of the cast is pretty much wasted. Logan Lerman, for example, is left to fiddle about with Jonah, a boy who is either completely revolted by the idea of killing, or is so into it that you can’t tell who is who anymore. Nearly everyone else gets short little glimpses of characters, like the Markowitzes, a Jewish tech-savvy couple; Joe, an Asian with strong combat skills; Harriet, a nun with guns; Roxy, a black woman with an Afro, a no-nonsense attitude and guns; and Lonny, an actor with a serious case of inferiority complex and/or busted up masculinity. Unfortunately, other than the Markowitzes, not many of the supporting characters offer much to care about.

As for the Nazis, as mentioned before, they’re mostly cartoons. Be it in the flashbacks at Auschwitz or other concentration camps (that are somehow turned into family-friendly scenes if that could even be possible), they’re all so…non-threatening. The Nazis here make human chessboards, make prisoners sing under threat of death, poke at prisoners with three-pronged rakes and some joke about their comrades' manhoods. The leader, the “Colonel”, is more like a discount Frau Engel from Wolfenstein: The New Order, with the insanity but none of the character.

The in-series gags are well crafted, though perhaps in a misguided attempt at injecting humour into the series. From cartoonish introductions to the Hunters, to off-brand shows like Why Does Everyone Hate the Jews?, the series tries way too hard to be funny, but also tries to be a serious show about Nazi killing. It forgets that Nazi killing in the modern era is no longer a serious thing – it’s taken for granted and has been heavily consumerised. But for all the failings of the show, it makes one great transgression: Turning Don Quixote’s The Impossible Dream into a rallying cry for a Nazi as he hunts Jews, as though he is on a glorious quest.

To close, Hunters is a poor attempt at wish fulfilment and historical revisionism. It yearns for the heights of the greats but does not manage to reach it. The series falls apart like little old Humpty Dumpty, causing a big splattery mess when it does. The season’s ending is pretty twisty, though, and could very well be a strong basis for a potential second season. If it's anything like this season, however, count us out.

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