By Mollie Campbell
Cast: Al Pacino, Logan Lerman, Lena Onlin, Carol Kane, Dylan Baker
****MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD******
Hunters…what can I say? This show is full of twists and turns, highs and lows, violence and depression, with just a hint of downright silliness. It is meaningful, complicated, emotional, explosive, mysterious and thrilling. Despite some criticism, I think this is one of the most exciting, intricate and impactful shows ever released, especially in recent years.
***FINAL SPOILER WARNING
The story begins in June 1977, this wacky and psychotic series opener aims to shock, and it sure does succeed. A couple head to the barbecue of their neighbour, the wife, who is Jewish, recognises the host ‘Biff’ (Dylan Baker) as a Nazi, the Nazi who killed her family, posing as an All-American father in a big house in Maryland. Within moments, he kills everybody there, including his own American wife and family. He grins and begins speaking in a harsh German accent, recites a little speech about Nazi’s, their power and his disgust for Jewish people and then gleefully kills her. A man ‘Travis’ (Greg Austin), who we know later on as a complete ego-centric psychopath, visits Biff at his home to clean up the bodies and shoot him in the arm, so as not to blow his cover. The opener sets the tone for the whole show, honest and important, but very strange and trippy, almost silly at times.
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, we are introduced to Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), a clever 19 year old kid who resides with his beloved grandmother Ruth (Jeannie Berlin), who raised him when his parents died. That very night, Jonah hears some noise downstairs in the living room and discovers a stranger, who then shoots his grandmother. He races to her aid but she dies soon after he gets there. Her death, as well as being an emotional, grief-ridden journey for Jonah, turns into a literal journey too…a deep, dark, mind-boggling journey that he starts to wish he had never gotten himself into. It starts with the introduction of Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), who comforts Jonah at his grandmother’s funeral. He claims to have been in the camps with her, but even this early on, we question his honesty, adding to a strange hunch we start to feel about him right until the end of the tenth episode. But in the meantime, he acts as a role model for Jonah, guiding him on his way and eventually introducing him to a jaw-dropping new way a life. The revelation that there are still Nazi’s living in 1970’s America, and that he is the leader of a group of Nazi hunters who track down and brutally torture and kill Nazi’s.
As a massive Al Pacino fan, I’m a little biased but I can honestly say that in my opinion, this show is one of the greatest pieces of work he has done in recent years. The show itself, whilst silly and somewhat bitty at times (in terms of the flashbacks), is phenomenal and so multi-faceted it is actually kind of overwhelming. The time spent in pre-production, the pinpoint precision used during creation from writing to production is simply astonishing. From the research used when creating the story, to the time the actors spent perfecting their language and pronunciation of German, every base was covered.
Logan Lerman shines, here he has really been given the opportunity to further cement his career, proving just how solid he is at his craft. The fight against injustice and what happens to us as humans when presented with an opportunity for revenge is given a spotlight here, and we see Jonah struggling to adapt to this new brutal mission, he doesn’t take to torturing ex-Nazi’s because 1. The ways in which he is told to kill them is incredibly disturbing and 2. It makes them just as bad as the Nazi’s in question (despite the totally justifiable need for them to be held accountable for their actions). How could you simply overlook the amount of pain these people caused? And the barbaric acts they committed in the feeble vain of their psychotic leader. The confliction is conveyed with such emotion, it’s quite distressing and very heavy to watch. This certainly isn’t a show to binge watch in my opinion, it is doable but the content of the show deserves to be taken in with care and honest perception, as opposed to rushing through it as if it meant nothing.
Although, there are definitely lighter moments, it still manages to convey that laidback beach-bum vibe of the 70’s, particularly the amusing scene in which Jonah and his friends smoke a huge joint at Coney Island. This is followed by a rather trippy scene that involves the trio of friends dancing to the music of the Bee Gees, however strange it may be to watch (I cannot erase it from my memory), it does serve a purpose. As the scene unfolds, he starts to picture his grandmother standing in front of him; he suddenly cannot escape from this nightmare. This results in a haunting image of her wearing those immortal stripes, following him wherever he goes. It is at this point he realises that he cannot get himself out of what he has started, the need for justice for his grandmother overtakes his fear and trepidation.
As the series unfolds, the violence is turned up a notch (and the silliness at times) and things start to unravel in a fast yet slow nature. Some scenes have a major build up, others are unexpected and shocking. A particularly sad scene is when Jonah finds his best friend has been murdered, during a shift at the comic book store that he was supposed to be working himself. He sees his grandmother stood in front of him again, the light of the scene changes subtly, getting darker…showing us that this is the final straw…Jonah is truly a part of the fight. As the episodes go on we get an idea of just how many Nazi’s there are, we are shocked to find out just how embedded they are into society. Whilst this is happening we are given a bit more history about Ruth, how Meyer was tortured by the barbaric Nazi ‘The Wolf’ and Meyer is revealed to be Jonah’s grandfather. This naturally solidifies their bond and creates a nice dynamic that is interesting for the audience to see, Meyer is proud of Jonah, yet he criticises his ‘weakness’ when he fails to kill Travis when given the chance. At this point, it is very difficult to figure Meyer out; we are still asking ourselves if he is good or bad. Fast-forward, and after endless ups and downs, in a spine-tingling twist …Meyer is revealed to be the wolf, much to ours and Jonah’s utter shock.
Moreover, it turns out Al Pacino’s character murdered the real Meyer, changed his appearance (with a little help from a plastic surgeon) and started again in New York. He explains that his story isn’t justifying what he has done, but helping to redeem a sense of goodness. He explains that by living as a Jew, he has realised just how barbarically he had acted back in Germany and that hunting for hidden Nazi’s was his way of finding the light. The cinematography when this scene unfolds is astonishing, just the simple altered lighting in the background, drastically transforms the whole scene and the entire show within seconds. The following scenes are almost Shakespearian, Jonah finally lets go of that very ‘weakness’ that Meyer previously pointed out to him, and stabs the wolf right in the chest. All of our suspicions about Meyer have been confirmed, but definitely not in the way we initially predicted. The acting is incredible, nothing less would be expected from the great Al Pacino himself, it is always thrilling to see him play a villain. As Jonah informs the rest of his Nazi-hunting group the news about ‘Meyer’ or ‘The Wolf’, they agree to stay together and keep on hunting.
The final scene takes us to South America… have you guessed it already? I am usually very astute and intuitive when it comes to predicting content/twists etc.… very early on in a series or film, I did see a lot of foreshadowing in this show, some hints were acted upon, some were red herrings but there was one scene at the end that I didn’t predict until seconds before it happened. And it was the moment we see four blond-haired, blue-eyed boys running from a corn field towards a beautiful big house in Argentina, and upon seeing an old man’s shoes that I finally realised what the ending would be.
Adolf Hitler, alive and kicking in South America, as predicted, sat next to ‘The Colonel’ a.k.a …Eva. Now if you haven’t watched the show yet (in which case you just spoiled the whole thing by reading this), I can see how this would sound silly, but it’s not, it’s deadly serious. I was blown away, my mind imploded at the end there more than any show I have ever seen. The fact that they don’t show Hitler’s face, simply his chin and grey moustache, is what prevents it from being viewed as a farce or a comedy. Everything comes down to Hitler, the corn syrup, the fourth Reich…it all falls into place. There were obvious hints of course, and the mysticism that surrounds Hitler’s death is still taken very seriously to this day, with numerous conspiracy theories, but the fact that they actually went there is quite thrilling, the kind of shock you expect from a Grade A show.
Overall, this show blew my mind; it is one of the best drama’s I think I have ever seen. I understand the criticism it has created, especially around the concern for it ‘welcoming future deniers’ but this show is trying to highlight just how awful and barbaric the events at Auschwitz were, and reminds us that it should never be forgotten, which is the most important thing.