Al Pacino is back, baby. Recently Oscar-nominated for the first time in 27 years (Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman), the ageing screen icon was also celebrated for a quick cameo in Quentin Tarantino’s nostalgic drama Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, where he more than held his own opposite Leonardo DiCaprio. In fact, the man behind Scarface, Michael Corleone and countless others has barely missed a step recently – apart from at the BAFTAs – and appears to have entered a new golden era in his career. His next move? To play a sweary Nazi hunter in Jordan Peele’s blood-spattered revenge thriller Hunters, of course.
Set in late-70s New York, Hunters follows a diverse band of vigilantes as they track down unrepentant Nazi officials embedded in US society. Hidden away, the antisemitic villains hold various positions, including top government jobs, and will stop at nothing to create a Fourth Reich in America. Befriended by Pacino’s gutsy Jewish millionaire Meyer Offerman, young protagonist Jonah Heidelbaum must find his place in a deadly conflict many thought was over.
Meticulously cast, the Amazon Prime Video series throws up several shocks. One is Logan Lerman – deadly dull in WWII flick Fury and fantasy epic Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief, but magnetic here as the bewildered Jonah. Another surprise is Pacino. Since the 2000s, we’ve become used to wordy, quieter performances from the once-shouty megastar. But in Hunters, the actor lets loose with some outrageous, expletive-filled one-liners – “Let’s go cook some Nazi c***s” being a good example. We also bear witness to Al’s best action scenes in 40 years, as he plunges a knife through the neck of a high-ranking Nazi official who now runs a toy shop. Elsewhere, there’s a bizarre but brilliant part for Josh Radnor, who played Ted Mosby in long-running US sitcom How I Met Your Mother. As Lonny Flash, he’s a pompous, self-aggrandising arse – but one with enough silly charm to make him fun. Other characters include smart fighter Roxy Jones, played by rising star Tiffany Boone; Kate Mulvany (The Great Gatsby) as the pistol whippin’ nun Sister Harriet; and Greg Austin, who plays a deliciously evil agent of the Reich, determined to weed out the “weak” and “lesser” (he thinks).
As you’d expect for a story that touches on such delicate subjects (i.e. the Holocaust), Hunters has had a reasonably bumpy ride prior to release. Initially criticised for taking on the role of a Jewish retiree, Pacino responded as you might expect: without apology. “I have no problem with this,” he told The Times, before co-star Lerman backed him up. “That’s bullshit,” he said, referring to the controversy. “As a Jewish person I can say that. Come on, anybody can play the role.”
Contention aside, Hunters looks like the blockbuster TV hit Amazon has been searching for. Perennially in Netflix’s shadow, the little brother of the streaming world hasn’t quite nailed the magic formula its older sibling perfected with Stranger Things, Making A Murderer and others. Until now, that is. Horror specialist Jordan Peele (executive producer) has left his bloody fingerprints on every page of Hunters‘ script, but it’s the pulpy 1970s aesthetic that fans will love most. Influenced strongly by Tarantino, the ultra-violent bits are broken up by stylised asides, which often take the form of retro TV ads for fictional buddy cop shows. In one excellent segment, a trip to the beach becomes a funky, fully-choreographed dance-off set to the Bee Gees’ disco classic ‘Stayin’ Alive’. Naturally, the feel-good factor evaporates when Jonah imagines his late grandma – Holocaust survivor Ruth – stood in front of him clad in extermination camp rags.
Thankfully, Hunters doesn’t skimp on historical detail. Stuffed with grim flashbacks to the Second World War, each character’s background is fleshed out with on-screen action – most of it exceptionally gruesome. Obviously, some liberties are taken with the truth, but when you’re dealing with a period of such evil, a bit of poetic license doesn’t seem gratuitous. Narratively, the bonkers, comics-inspired thriller could have forgotten the importance of plot and filled the show with meaningless fight scenes. Instead, we get plenty of gore and some spectacular set-pieces, but the buildup is longer – and the extra dialogue makes each episode’s bombshell moment more emotional.
Pacino himself has more than a few of these. When Hunters was first announced, most assumed the 79-year-old industry vet wouldn’t sign up for extended screen time. But Meyer is a meaty role, it turns out, with large chunks of meaningful story. Prior to his recent resurgence, Pacino had been enjoying a ‘one-picture-per-year’ semi-retirement. In 2020, the film legend has a whopping three projects due. Just when he thought he was out, they pull him back in…
‘Hunters’ launches on Amazon Prime Video on February 21