“The Talmud was wrong. Living well is not the best revenge. You know what the best revenge is? Revenge.” – Nazi tracker Al Pacino to a protégé in “Hunters.”
The wildly shifting tones in the Amazon Prime series “Hunters” reminded me of the parable about the blind men and the elephant.
You remember the story. A group of blind men are introduced to a strange new animal called an elephant. The man who touches the trunk says, “This is a thick snake.” The man who touches the elephant’s side says he’s like a wall. The man who feels the tusk says he’s a spear.
So it goes with “Hunters,” which follows an underground band of Nazi hunters in the mid-1970s.
If your initial exposure to the series was via one of the flashback scenes set in World War II concentration camps, you’d say this was a somber, heartbreaking, piercingly memorable drama.
Ah, but if you happened on “Hunters” in one of the stylized sequences, you’d be convinced this is a satirical comedy/drive-in action hybrid, dripping with pop culture references — something along the lines of “Jojo Rabbit” meets Quentin Tarantino.
But if you dropped in on “Hunters” during one of the sequences involving the FBI agent on the verge of uncovering a world-shattering conspiracy, or a New York plagued by rats and graffiti and the Son of Sam killings — you’d have a different characterization of the show.
Even in chronological order — and if you’re not watching in chronological order, what’s wrong with you — “Hunters” will put you in danger of Viewer Whiplash as it shifts gears more rapidly than Baby Driver behind the wheel of a red Subaru Impreza WRX.
I mean, when a 13-year-old girl in a Bat Mitzvah candle-lighting setting introduces “The Hunters” one by one to a “Misirlou” style cover of “Hava Nagila,” and we see B-movie style clips and posters for each character, you know we’re in irreverent territory.
“Hunters” has the vibe of something based on a super-cool graphic novel, but it’s actually an original creation by David Weil, inspired by true events, including stories Weil heard from his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, when he was a little boy.
The series has a lush and vibrant production design, an overwhelmingly array of stylistic touches, rich and vibrant writing — and appropriately oversized, comic-book performances from a terrific cast.
The 90-minute series premiere begins with Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” on the soundtrack as we swoop in on a backyard barbecue in 1977 Maryland — complete with the host wearing a cheesy apron while manning the grill, kids happily splashing around in the pool and a newly arrived guest saying, “I’ll take a Schlitz if you got it.”
By the time that scene is over, there’s zero doubt we’re in for one crazy-ass viewing experience.
Cut to Brooklyn, where 20-year-old Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman from the “Percy Jackson” films) and his buddies have just exited a screening of the hit movie “Star Wars.”
Jonah manages a comics store and even has a bit of a “superpower” himself in that he can look at maps and puzzles and coded messages and instantly sort out patterns and secret meanings in a “Beautiful Mind” kind of way.
Still, Jonah’s just a normal, good-natured, regular guy — until his grandmother (and sole guardian) is executed in their home in the dead of night by a masked gunman, and his world is turned upside down.
Jonah knew his beloved, sweet grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, but only after her death does he learn she was part of a super-secret band of Nazi hunters who recently had started tracking down — and executing — former war criminals who had assimilated into American culture.
Al Pacino, looking and sounding like he kept the accent and mannerisms from playing Hollywood agent Marvin Schwarz in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” is Meyer Offerman, a multi-millionaire who bankrolls and masterminds the Nazi-hunting missions.
Meyer’s core team includes the wonderful combination of Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane as Murray and Mindy Markowitz, who fuss about like kindly grandparents but are in fact experts in weapons and gadgets; Tiffany Boone as Roxy Jones, who looks like she just stepped off the set of a blaxploitation film; Josh Radnor as the preening actor and master of disguise Lonny Flash; Louis Ozawa as Joe Torrance, a combat vet with Bruce Lee fighting skills, and Kate Mulvany as Sister Harriet, a lethal weapon in a nun’s habit.
Told you it was like a Tarantino film!
“Hunters” also features some hiss-worthy villains, including Dylan Baker as the oily politician Biff Simpson; Greg Austin as an American-born, next-generation Nazi killer, and Lena Olin as “The Colonel,” the leader of what she calls “The Fourth Reich.”
And there’s a compelling storyline involving Jerrika Hinton’s Millie Malone, a rookie FBI agent who begins to see a stunning pattern in what initially appeared to be a series of unrelated deaths in New York and Florida.
There’s a LOT going on in “Hunters,” from the harrowing and brutally shocking concentration camp sequences to the bloody developments in the 1970s to the avalanche of pop culture references (“Kojak,” Tab, “The Six Million Dollar Man,” a certain TV Guide with Farrah Fawcett on the cover).
This is not a show made for casual viewing while you’re in and out of the room, or occasionally checking your phone. You’ll want to strap in and pay attention and hang on for the full effect of the ride.