2 out of 5
Created by: David Weil
Operation Paperclip, in which the US government sneaked Nazi-linked German scientists and engineers into the US post World War II (and beyond) – mostly in a bid to prevent Russia from doing the same – is an absolutely important historical event, and one that should be a part of any willful student of the era, as well as a hopefully eye-opening concept for how political war can be, and how major things can happen beneath our detection.
Of course, nowadays, it is a part of a student’s curriculum – willful or not, as long as they’re covering WWII in school – and so if all you really have to say on the subject is, and I quote, “this shit really happened,” as per Amazon Prime’s Hunters, then I don’t think there’s much new to offer to the conversation.
Hunters repeats a similar phrase a couple of times, often accompanied by kitschy fake commercials which assume that an animated narrator, self-aware elevator muzak, and out-of-place swearing automatically elevate something to “clever,” and then it goes back to its story about a group of rebels, in the 70s, who’ve been tracking down the secret Nazis from Operation Paperclip and exacting vengeance, occasionally stumbling across some competent drama, but then getting confused if it actually cares about drama and rather just wants to impart some Tarantino swagger, or maybe go full grindhouse and shove some literal shit down Nazis mouths.
Yeah, it’s that kinda show.
And there’s something valid in all the pieces of that, from trying to legitimately study the effects of a legacy of violence and the morality of revenge on the newest and youngest member of this group, Jonah (Logan Lerman), recruited after discovering their existence when his grandmother and former member is killed; or in doing a cheeky post-Inglorious Basterds style romp, with a cast of colorful characters executing colorful kills; or going full camp with a gleeful unhinged secret Nazi “Biff” (Dylan Baker) smiling as he shoots down housewives, and a fomenting “fourth reich” planning some major bad news as they gather up all their US-implants under the “we have ways of making you talk” leadership of Lena Olin’s ‘The Colonel…’
But then again, we have “this shit really happened” as an indicator of the level of depth Hunters’ writers generally achieve, as well as their iffy grasp on humor, making the latter two directions mentioned come across pretty limply, as well as butting up oddly against the moments when, suddenly, we flip sides and are made to question our main troupe’s actions. Which is unfortunate, because thanks to a very solid performance from Lerman, the dramatic elements are actually pretty compelling. His arc from reluctant participant to angered revenger is well-paced, and although Pacino seems more like he was cast to give the project legitimacy than because he’s the first person that comes to mind when I think of an elderly Jewish type, he makes his character, Meyer, a valid leader for our ‘hunters,’ and builds in a sense of history to what could’ve been a stereotypical role.
Hunters also comes bearing some seasoned TV directors, including Wayne Yip, who’s helmed some of the most exciting episodes of shows I’ve seen in the past several years, so the show also generally looks good… And so it’s easy enough to watch. Which is kind of weird for a show that wants to be transgressive, and wants to confront us with our government’s actions, and wants to make us cheer on violence and then question it, but you need to dig a little deeper and go beyond just pointing a finger at something to actually achieve some of those effects, and Hunters very much just wades on the surface of its concepts.