Entertainment Magazine

A Few Thoughts About "Hunters"

Posted on the 22 March 2020 by Thehollywoodinterview @theHollywoodInt
A Few Thoughts About
By Alex Simon
I had a very influential screenwriting professor at USC. One day, after having seen a particularly disappointing new release over the weekend (the title of which has been lost to time), he pitched us the basic idea, which was gangbusters. We all bit the hook instantly and said we’d see this film in a heartbeat. He nodded sagely, then said: “A great idea is one thing, but it’s all in the execution. And let me tell you, they blew this one.”
Which brings me to “Hunters,” the highly-anticipated Amazon Prime series starring Al Pacino as a Holocaust survivor in 1977 NYC, who operates a shadowy group of covert ops and assassins dedicated to tracking down Nazi War Criminals hiding out the in the US who are attempting to jumpstart a Fourth Reich. So, again: Al Pacino playing a thinly veiled version of Simon Wiesenthal, guiding a group of badasses who we get to see brutally execute the most evil, destructive humans of the twentieth century in every episode. And it’s set in the gritty, down-and-dirty seventies! Can’t lose, right?
Where “Hunters” gets it wrong is that, in spite of being set in the mid-1970s, its tone is completely 21st century Millennial, which is obvious from its opening scene, when we meet our “hero.” Is he an ex-Green Beret who’s been dishonorably discharged for some top-secret malfeasance? No. Is he an ex-CIA agent who resigned over the corruption he saw daily within The Company? Well, no. What about just your garden variety dude in young adulthood in the seventies who had been to bed with a few women, consumed some alcohol and knew how to throw and take a punch? HA! Dig: we meet Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman) and his two best friends as they are coming out of a showing of a new flick called “Star Wars,” furiously debating the film as though they’re bearded intellectuals discussing Ingmar Bergman. But they’re not even academic types. They’re three doughy man-children dressed like 13 year-olds. We are then treated to Jonah (our hero, remember) getting the snot kicked out of him by a tall, strapping, Jon Hamm-handsome anti-Semite (who looks like the guy who, in an actual seventies flick, would’ve been cast as the hero) when he ineptly tries to sell him some weed. Oh, and Jonah works in a (ready for it?) comic book store. Would Robert Redford, Steve McQueen or Gene Hackman ever have played this part in the seventies? It’s a rhetorical question.
The remainder of the series is done in a graphic novel/comic book-meets-Quentin Tarantino tone of heightened realism, candy-colored palates and some of our finest veteran actors (in addition to Pacino, Dylan Baker, Lena Olin, Saul Rubinek, and Carol Kane) chewing the scenery like they’re kids in summer stock, or doing a sketch on “SNL,” not playing sober, deadly Nazi-hunters or huntees. I do understand that in the current creative climate, the comic book sensibility is what’s selling (and I include QT’s style in this oeuvre). It’s almost like today’s target audiences, mostly Millennials, can’t process the brutal reality that the films of the 1970s were all about, the ones that Generation X was weaned on, a sensibility that has made them endure. Now, a deadly-serious subject like killing escaped Nazis must be presented through the lens of heightened reality, as though it were pulled from the panels of the Sunday Funnies. It all seems to be saying, “You know what, kids? Don’t take any of this too seriously. You’re safe.” To quote John Schlesinger and William Goldman’s classic “Marathon Man” (about an escaped Nazi in 1970s NYC), a film “Hunters” tries to pay not-so-subtle homage to often, the phrase “Is it safe?” was meant to make us (and protagonist Dustin Hoffman) feel anything but.
As the series progresses, we’re treated to continual reminders that we’re in the hands of filmmakers who not only weren’t alive in the 1970s, but clearly didn’t do their homework as to what life was truly like then. For starters, there weren’t a lot of guys in their early 20s who hadn’t grown out of their awkward adolescence. If they hadn’t, it was because there was something wrong with them, medically or psychologically and you didn’t see them out in the mainstream population. In those days, if you didn’t “read adult,” you most likely wouldn’t get hired for a job, have many friends, or find anyone who wanted to date you. There was simply nowhere to go if you were stuck in Peter Pan Syndrome. On that note, there is one sequence in particular that illustrates everything wrong with “Hunters.” Jonah and his Asperger’s brigade head to Coney Island during a crowded summer day, and proceed to light up the fattest joint this side of a Cheech & Chong movie, and...smoke it in broad daylight. In 1977 New York, this was a felony, as in “Felony Possession of Marijuana,” and would’ve landed all of them in The Tombs or Rikers for an extended period. The point being: if this is being played for real, your “heroes” are dumb as an episode of “Three’s Company.” As Jonah succumbs to the weed’s medicinal properties, the scene dissolves into a surreal dance sequence that has the boys hoofing, Vincente Minnelli-style, through Coney Island as the other bell-bottomed denizens join in. Again: don’t take the nasty, bloody violence that’s coming later too seriously, kids. It’s all just a fantasy with actors playing 1970s dress-up. The sideburns peel off. The “Germans” are played by guys from New Jersey. The blood is just Karo Syrup and Red Dye No. 2 that will wash off.
“Hunters” is the biggest missed opportunity in recent memory of what could have been a “Sopranos” or “Breaking Bad” level game-changer, a series that not only presented historical fiction in an honest, realistic setting, showing the brutal realities of The Holocaust to a new generation, but did so in an engaging manner, with characters and storylines that felt grounded in real life. In a time of rising anti-Semitism across the globe, such a pop culture source of infotainment is badly needed. A 2018 Washington Post poll found that two-thirds of American Millennials couldn’t identify what Auschwitz was. Twenty-two percent had never heard of the Holocaust. These numbers are troubling, to say the least, but equally so is the presentation of the twentieth century’s most notorious mass genocide as a comic book/video game, as opposed to an approach that would be, in “elevator pitch” style, “Three Days of the Condor” meets Steven Spielberg’s “Munich.” Both films were played “for real,” while still offering up nearly perfect screenplays and casts of the finest actors available. They made us forget we were watching movies, while also informing our minds about bigger issues.
That class at USC ended on a melancholy note. As the professor wrapped up his lecture, it wasn’t lost on any of us that he seemed to be taking this subject very personally. I raised my hand and pointed this out, respectfully inquiring why. “Very simple,” he answered. “The original script for this film was mine. It was my dream project. I spent many years researching and writing it. Then I finally sold it, for a lot of money. So much money, in fact, I could probably retire. But I was invited to this private screening, just for me and my wife, courtesy of the studio, and nothing on the screen resembled what I’d written, including my own name.” They’d given another writer, the one who’d done the rewrite, sole credit without his knowledge. We all felt like we’d been gut-punched. I said to him, “God, you must be devastated. I’m amazed you even showed up today.” He laughed, rolled up his sleeve, proudly displaying a Marine Corps tattoo on his forearm. “Alex,” he said, “I did two tours in the Korean War and lived to tell about it, to tell all of you. Trust me, on the devastation meter, this doesn’t even qualify.” He rolled his sleeve back down and class was over.
Once upon a time, there were men and women on this planet who knew what devastation was and chose to survive. At that same time, there were those of us who learned about it second-hand from those who’d lived it first-hand.
Once upon a time…

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog