Last fall, Gilles drove me past a stately brick home in Tourcoing, France, on the Boulevard de la Marne. It was the house his grandparents used to own.
His grandfather had been a prosperous textile merchant, and the four story brick home was a testament to his success. It was where Gilles’ father, Bertrand, was born in 1939. After the German invasion in 1940, the Nazis kicked out the family and took over the home. While Bertrand’s family was packing up to flee, an officer took a liking to the toddler, picking him up to play. Bertrand then peed all over the man and his uniform.
According to Gilles’ father, “Piss is very good revenge.”
According to Hunters on Prime, revenge itself is very good revenge.
Every Murder Is Personal
I love World War II movies and shows, because, at their core, they are all about killing Nazis. At the end of World War II, the Nazis were the losers, and that easy, monochromatic idea of good versus evil satisfies that simplistic human part of my brain. No Nazis left alive. Saving Private Ryan? Dead Nazis. Defiance? Dead Nazis and Daniel Craig. Band of Brothers? Nazis, pew pew.
Hunters? Dead AARP Nazis.
After Jonah Heidelbaum witnesses an intruder shoot and kill his grandmother in their Brooklyn home, Jonah learns she was a founding member of a band of Nazi hunters, led by Meyer Offerman (played by Al Pacino). A mix of Holocaust survivors and mercenaries, the killing crew have been picking off Nazis secretly living on American soil, one by one, choosing to bring justice in a very personal manner. A Nazi chemist gets gassed. A Nazi doctor who tortured children by pulling their teeth has his mouth blown clean out of his head. It’s very Old Testament Exodus 21:24. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
I also like how Moses goes on in verse 25. Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Everyone on Offerman’s team brings something to the hunt. One is good at disguises. One is good at wearing jumpsuits and picking locks. Two are good at weapons, and so on. And it turns out, Jonah is very good at cracking code, like a mini Turing machine. Josh Radnor’s Lonny Flash character dubs Jonah “Encyclopedia Brownstein.”
Falling unexpectedly into their plan of revenge is FBI Agent Millie Morris. While investigating the death of a cloaked Nazi and NASA scientist, she realizes “there are Nazis living in America and someone out there is taking them out.” Jerrika Hinton’s Morris is a very green agent trying to make it in the patriarchal Bureau, wanting to do good and make a difference, instead of just cleaning up messes like a janitor. She is whipsmart and is “sick of your bullshit,” while still experiencing true shock and horror at finding a Nazi’s stash of Jewish teeth in a tin box.
Morris and Jonah are the moral center of the show. Jonah struggles emotionally with the bloody reality of the revenge. We say we want revenge, but blowing out someones eardrums is an ugly business. Morris hates going to Florida for work, and she hates white supremacists. We thought we got rid of Nazis in WWII, and yet there they were at Cape Canveral in 1977. And still, here they are in Charlottesville, Virginia, 2020. Gotdamn Nazis.
The Past Is All There Is, Repeating Over and Over Again
Dan Weil’s 10-part series is reminding everyone of two movies in the revenge canon: Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and Speilberg’s Munich. In Inglorious Basterds, the Allied heroes set out to one thing and one thing only: killing Nazis. In Munich, the goal was to avenge the eleven Israeli athletes and coaches killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1977 Munich Olympics. But in those films, the killing was the point. Hunting Nazis brings its own tension. What are the stakes? Trying to not to get caught while exacting revenge outside the bounds of the law or not having the bad guys kill you while you are killing them.
But Hunters doesn’t trust that is enough, and loses me a bit when it adds the conspiracy theory-esque layer of a Nazi plot for the Fourth Reich, led by the chilling and gorgeous Lena Olin. German Nazis aren’t just hiding; they are also actively planning to take over the world (insert evil laugh muwahahahahaha here). It’s a revenge fantasy with too many machinations.
While I do feel horror when Olin’s sociopathic henchman, Travis Leach, is out committing grisly murders — one of a pregnant woman — in the name of genetic purity, it nearly crosses the line into torture porn. Watching Leach is like watching Hans Landa-cum-Anton Chigurh wreak mayhem from Skokie, Illinois, to Tampa, Florida. I appreciate it, but the story didn’t need it to be successful.
Bringing God’s Justice and Amazing Wallpaper
Set in the 1970s, Hunters is a whole mood. The set design is a visual feast. Instead of torture porn, I prefer to think of the wallpaper and velvet furniture porn. Curt Beech, who was also head of production design for BlacKkKlansman, deserves an Emmy for his work here. Set design where everything feels like it belongs is a skill.
The Holocaust flashbacks contain none of the hunt’s free-wheeling, groovy vibe. Instead, the concentration camp and ghetto scenes are a somber and grey-tinted reminder of why the hunt exists. However, the show’s creators and writers have come under recent fire from the Auschwitz Memorial for creating atrocities that didn’t exist. They have an excellent point. Did the Nazis not give them enough sadism from which to choose? Plenty to avenge without moving into falsity. Let’s kill Nazis for the actual crimes they committed. The list of victims is 6,000,000 long.
Hunters on Amazon Prime Video is streaming now.
Amy takes pride in being a grumpy optimist. Want to talk sports ball? Amy is your girl. Her favorite New York Times crossword puzzle day is Tuesday. If your book is set in the former Soviet Union or World War 2, Amy will read it. As a recovered Southern Baptist, she is raising her daughter to be happy.