It’s the late 70’s in New York City and Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman) is having his world turned upside-down as he is thrust into the unbelievable and dangerous world of Nazi-hunting. After meeting the curious Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), Jonah discovers that a diverse crew has come together to bring Nazis hiding in America to justice. Odd as this sounds already, it turns out that the Hunters are on a road of discovery they never imagined when they set out to find people apparently hiding in plain sight.
Hunters, thematically, has much in common with The Americans in that it capitalizes on the bizarre power of what might be called brazen surreptitiousness. This obviously plays out more as the series goes on, ultimately delivering some shocking, and amazing, moments, but from the outset, the Hunters exist in a kind of slow, calculated, mad dash that delivers the perfection of tension. Beyond that, the series also gives a familiar feel just in the sense of the truly overwhelming odds being met. Sure, there’s some level of training in the general pool of our Hunters, but what can they really hope to accomplish against… well, against who knows what? The proper channels have no interest in helping them, or believing them for the most part, which means they’re operating outside the law. Going on a murder spree poses enough hurdles.
With a series designed such that virtually everything that happens is a new twist or sheds new light on everything else, spoiler-free dissection is a tricky affair. But, for all that this is a series built around an increasing, and at times gut-wrenching, sense of dread and shock, it’s far more about its characters than its events.
Pacino, recently brilliant in The Irishman, is possibly at his best in a role that is not only complex but filled with sudden shifts. His own motives already ebb and flow with the members of his team, and now he has to figure out what to do with young Jonah, who is naturally unsure how he fits, or can fit, into anything. The dance of faces Pacino has to don, all while believably delivering the man underneath them all, is worth every minute in itself.
Jonah, facing the realization that his grandmother co-founded a group of Nazi hunters with someone she was in the camps with, never does get a chance to get his feet under him, through at least four episodes. The multi-faceted reality of non-government-sanctioned Nazi removal isn’t something you’re taught to deal with in school, and Lerman manages shocked, angry, and wildly out of his element as well as anyone. Worse, for Jonah, he has to figure out how to swim with fishes he doesn’t know, and don’t make a lot of sense. A nun/spy (Kate Mulvany), a not-exactly-working actor (Josh Radnor), and an aging, weapon-specialist couple (Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane) don’t quite scream “competent, black ops team.”
I imagine that’s part of the point, as this surreal adventure unfolds with its feints within feints and frequent flashbacks to life in Concentration Camps. They aren’t quite competent. Some of them may not even be after “good,” having long since become creations of their own, and others’, victimization. But, they are heroes.
Hunters is a series that might actually leave you winded, and for some it could hit too close to home to be watchable. And, because it wants you with these characters as much as it wants you on the hunt, it’s one of the most engaging efforts in years.