Hunters review: Al Pacino's new Amazon series takes itself seriously - and that's a good thing
Hollywood legend Pacino stars opposite Logan Lerman in this gritty new drama
Note: This review covers only the first episode of Amazon Prime's Hunters
One of the most surprising things about Amazon Prime's Hunters is the tone it chooses to adopt. With its pulp fiction premise and the involvement of executive producer Jordan Peele (who has roots in comedy), the series would have been a natural fit for the tongue-in-cheek grindhouse aesthetic championed by the likes of Robert Rodriguez. Instead, the show takes its subject matter seriously, only veering into Tarantino-esque levels of heightened reality on one or two occasions.
Hunters is set in 1970s New York City, where Nazis have secretly exiled themselves as they plan the establishment of a so-called Fourth Reich. With intelligence agencies largely oblivious to the threat, a diverse band of hunters have assembled to track down the leading figures and eliminate them before they can execute their vision for the future.
We delve into this dark and treacherous underworld through the eyes of young Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), a nerdy teenager who deals drugs in order to keep food on the table. When his grandmother is murdered by a mysterious figure who seemingly knew her personally, he is introduced to Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), an old family friend who vows to look out for him - something which proves very useful when Jonah goes seeking justice for the crime.
The concept of a geeky teenager getting drawn into a world beyond their comprehension is well-trodden ground, but given creator David Weil's stated ambition to create Jewish super heroes with this series, it's quite appropriate that Jonah fits the Peter Parker archetype so well. Make no mistake, while Pacino is the biggest name, this is Lerman's show and he's an excellent lead. There's some heavy material to deliver in this opening chapter and he proves himself to be up to the challenge.
But a protagonist is only as strong as their villain and Hunters boasts a truly loathsome one who is firmly established in the very opening scene. The episode begins with Biff Simpson (Dylan Baker), secretary of state in the US government and a Nazi spy, being recognised by a Holocaust survivor at a barbecue in idyllic suburban America. What follows is utterly harrowing viewing, featuring a stunningly terrifying monologue from Baker which sets up his character as a despicable foe for the hunters to contend with.
It should be stated that this bold opener isn't the only disturbing scene in the first episode, so viewer discretion is wholeheartedly advised. Hunters doesn't pull any punches, but even its most graphic moments don't feel gratuitous as they are in service to the story, often finding unexpected relevance later on.
As the group goes about waging their secret war, a lone FBI agent named Millie Malone (Jerrika Hinton) begins looking into Nazis hiding out in America. Despite being on the cusp of a huge discovery, she isn't taken seriously amid the sexist and racist atmosphere of the time. That doesn't discourage her from diving deeper into the case, summing up her rationale with the powerful line: "It can't be any harder than it already is."
While it deals with sensitive themes, that isn't to say Hunters is an entirely humourless affair. There are moments of much-needed comic relief scattered here and there, from the banter between Judah and his friends to an absolute corker of a closing line from Pacino that leaves you itching to watch the next instalment.
As the credits roll on the first instalment of Hunters, there's a strong feeling the show has plenty more surprises in store - not least its large supporting cast. The titular gang of hunters barely feature in this opening chapter, which chooses to keep the focus squarely on Judah's first steps down this dangerous new path. It's an understandable narrative choice, but it gives little indication of how the dynamic of the show could shift when the full group is formally introduced.
Still, Hunters is off to a very promising start on Amazon Prime Video. What could very easily have been an exploitative piece instead gives weight to the horrifying crimes of World War II, while also making some pointed jabs at the issues still haunting society today.
Hunters is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 21st February