Amazon Prime’s ‘Hunters’ is erratic revenge fantasy

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Grade: 2.5/5.0

“Hunters” marks Amazon Prime’s most recent foray into prestige, “peak” television; it also marks the biggest risk the platform has taken in terms of thematic material. Developed in part by Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, the 10-episode first season premiered Feb. 21, receiving equal amounts of attention for the impressive team behind it and its controversial subject matter.

The heavily stylized revenge fantasy follows a troupe of vigilantes known as “the Hunt” as they track and kill Nazi war criminals in 1970s New York. The premise may be enough to make audiences nervous, but that doesn’t mean that ironic, revisionist portrayals of Nazis haven’t previously succeeded. The most obvious comparison is Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 “Inglourious Basterds,” which shares both its subject matter and its unabashed, comic-book violence with “Hunters.”

But as much as “Hunters” wants to be a stylized, irreverent portrayal of a ragtag team seeking justice for the Holocaust, it remains committed to weaving in the darkness and trauma of that tragedy with sincerity. And while there’s plenty here to commend, the show never achieves the central narrative and tonal balance necessary to execute its premise.

The main storyline of “Hunters” takes place through the eyes of a young Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), who joins the Hunt after his grandmother is unexpectedly killed in a break-in. Jonah is taken under the wing of Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), a philanthropist and Holocaust survivor who previously established the Hunt along with Jonah’s grandmother. Under Meyer’s guidance, Jonah learns to reconcile his own inability to adapt to the violence of the Hunt with his desire to seek justice for his grandmother’s murder.

“Hunters” is at its best when it leans into a careful examination of its central characters. Lerman makes for an incredibly compelling lead, especially as a tragically passive, conflicted protagonist. Rather than serve as an instigator, Jonah falls unwittingly into every situation, desperately following Meyer and the other members of the Hunt with a singular, slim drive for vengeance underscoring his every action.

The show rests on Lerman’s shoulders, but moments that showcase his mentor-mentee relationship with Pacino’s Meyer Offerman are just as striking. Pacino effectively captures Meyer’s mysterious yet caring demeanor, and his presence on screen — both in the quieter moments with Jonah alone and in the more action-filled moments as the leader of the Hunt — makes every scene he’s in instantly engaging.

The supporting cast serves to push the story of “Hunters” forward while giving it its most cartoonish moments. Of the Hunters, Josh Radnor stands out as obnoxious actor Lonny Flash, while Tiffany Boone’s turn as the shrewd, stoic activist Roxy Jones is magnetic. Jerrika Hinton carries a major plotline as an FBI agent pursuing both the Nazis and the Hunters; despite having significant screen time, her character rarely crosses paths with the other protagonists. The show often succeeds based on the strength of its cast, with impressive performances across the board never making the audience question characters’ authenticity or convictions.

Unfortunately, the performances are not enough to keep the audience committed to the story or the setting. “Hunters” is too caught up in attempting to incorporate dramatic flashbacks, satirical one-off sketches and scenes that border on torture porn into every single episode. While these interludes make it difficult to lose the viewer’s attention, they also make it easy to shock, provoke and spur them to the point of exhaustion. While this pattern of rapidly changing sequences is seen throughout the majority of the show, a major season-ending twist arrives out of left field in an unexpected but irritatingly unearned fashion.

In its attempts to replicate a Tarantino-esque experience, “Hunters” fails to make the most of its premise, as it leans too heavily and frequently into drama and tragedy to the point where its more irreverent sequences feel poorly thought out and inappropriate, rather than clever or satirical. If the show’s writers lean into the comic book tone and quirkiness of their characters more actively in future seasons, “Hunters” still has the capacity to be a successful revisionist period fantasy. If the first season did anything right, it was introducing us to a team — and a story — that we’d be willing to stick around for.

Contact Anagha Komaragiri at [email protected]. Tweet her at @aaanaghaaa.