The horrors of Holocaust get a twist of Tarantino-esque violence, and larger-than-life drama is played out to the point of absurdity at times, in Amazon Primes new 10-episode show.
That mood of the show, though served with relish, would seem ironic, considering the series has been touted as a topical watch. It is meant to be a conversation of sorts, about the silent Nazi infiltration reportedly happening in modernday United States.
David Weil's creation is said to be inspired by real-life 'Nazi hunters' in the US of the mid-20th century, and also by Operation Paperclip -- a secret American program in which over 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians, were 'imported' to the US from Germany between 1945 and 1959. The motive was to use these Germans, many of whom evidently were Nazis, to gain Cold War advantage over the erstwhile Soviet Union.
The series, marking Hollywood icon Al Pacino's entry into the OTT space, is set in New York of the late seventies. At the centre of the story is Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), a bright young Jew who has chucked college to peddle weed because he needs quick cash. After a mysterious masked killer shoots down Jonah's grandmother (Jeannie Berlin), he finds a support system in the imposing Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), who had survived concentration camp along with her. Soon, Jonah learns Offerman is the leader of a secret group of Nazi trackers, whose mission is to hunt down and kill any Nazi who might still be living in the US. As Jonah is drawn to Offerman and his cause, his life is about to take a dramatic turn.
The impression one would have had watching the trailer, and given that plot backdrop, is "Hunters" is bound to be gritty stuff that did not lose out on the gravity of the historic tragedy it highlights. Yet, two episodes down the line, you realise you are watching a show that is too conscious about merely being a stylish swag-fest and little else.
As the episodes roll, and the violence gets brutal in parts, a lot of absurdity creeps in, too. A 'human chess' sequence, where concentration camp prisoners have to act as pieces on a chessboard and take each other's lives, seems too bizarre to be true (certain Jewish groups in the West have actually objected to the scene). The Holocaust background as well as the revenge drama become a mere excuse for a revelry of gore and death.
It is almost as if executive producer Jordan Peele and team were out creating Holocaust pop for the teenybopper crowd that loves its action drama soaked in lots of blood.
Despite those flaws, "Hunters" is a goodlooking show. It is technically rich and visually appealing. Even the most unpalatable sequences involving death camps and extreme violence are smartly executed, if at all contributing very little in terms of narrative value. The show is all about pulp action and drama, served with wanton comicbook sensibility.
You could of course argue this is not the first time an American production has served Nazi-tinted fiction with over-the-top zest -- Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" is an automatic recall.
The impact is different. Unlike Tarantino's World War thriller, "Hunters" barely manages a lasting impression. The show is too pulpy to resonate in your mind. Also, with episodes that have runtime between 57 and 90 minutes, portions of the show seem needlessly stretched.
You would check it out in for Pacino's much-flaunted presence, of course, and the Hollywood veteran has lost none of his maverick edge. However, the show belongs to Logan Lerman's Jonah. In an authorbacked appearance, the young actor gets to essay a part that demands a gamut of emotions, from vulnerability to cold fury to quiet resilience.
(Vinayak Chakravorty can be reached at email@example.com)