Al Pacino Hunts Nazis Through A Past That Seems Eerily Prescient
That Al Pacino is one of the greatest actors who ever lived is basically uncontested by this point. But while he has been duly celebrated for his work in movies, not enough attention has been paid to the impressive list of credits he has amassed on TV. From his extraordinary Emmy winning performance as Roy Cohn in the masterwork Angels in America, he has combined a remarkable body of work with HBO alone, earning nominations and Emmys for playing just unique figures as Jack Kevorkian, Phil Spector and Joe Paterno.
Now, as he enters his sixth decade as a performer, like so many actors of his age, found that the most appealing roles are in television. And he has begun his first work in a series as Meyer Offerman in Amazon’s astounding new series Hunters.
Anyone who says Pacino has been over the top in so much of his work in the past twenty years has clearly been concentrating on his work in film, and not on TV. As Meyer, a billionaire concentration camp survivor in 1970s New York, he is exceptionable subtle and mannered in just about every aspect of his performance, whether it is gently comforting Jonah, a twentyish man dealing with the lost of his grandmother, or strangling a Nazi he has been hunting for thirty years, Pacino is a model of restraint and subtle humor in every aspect of his performance. And that’s a good thing, because every other aspect of this series is delightfully over-the-top.
The main story centers around Jonah (Logan Lerman) a wunderkind who learns after his beloved safta’s murder, that she was hunting Nazis who live in this series’ America, and who are planning their comeback in an America filled with malaise. Meyer has assembled a team of Hunters, from tech wizards like the Markowitz’s (Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane) to an MI6 agent dressed as a nun (Kate Mulvany) to a seventies film star (Josh Radnor finally gets to out-Barney Neil Patrick Harris).
There is a level of exploitation here that Quentin Tarentino might consider to over the top, but in a way that makes so much of this bearable. The era of Buchenwald and Auschwitz is very fresh in everybody’s minds, particular Meyer’s. When he reveals the horrors the particular atrocities that these monsters have committed, everything goes into shades of black and gray and the horror of all these becomes very clear. And its all the more appalling when we see just how brazen these new Aryans are in their approach. In the very first moments of the Pilot, we met ‘Biff Simpson’ (Dylan Baker getting to chew the scenery in a way he rarely does) an undersecretary of state willing to slaughter his entire family to protect his cover. There’s a character known as the Colonel (Lena Olin, refreshing the villainy she mastered so well on Alias), willing to manipulate elected officials with little patience for the new breed, trying to bring about the ‘Fourth Reich’. And by far the most terrifying character known only as Tobias, the most efficient and terrifying assassin I’ve seen on the small screen since the days of Justified, a man who so calmly and coolly threatens and kills anything that obstructs his boss’ way with no questions asked. You can just seem handing out tiki torches.
And the series does not forget just how blunt the death is. All throughout the Pilot everyone is saying that Jonah should just let this go and go back to his normal life. Jonah insists over and over he can handle, and over and over we see he can’t. He wants vengeance for his grandmother, but its very clear he’s not equipped for it.
Hunters is far from a perfect series. The episodes, if anything, seem a little to overextended, and it can’t seem to decide whether it was revel in the exploitation or live in the horror, so tonally, its very uneven. But the cast is more than up for it, and Pacino is a steady hand for this series. Those who (like me) are frustrated that the next installment of Fargo has been delayed will find this show a more than fitting substitute.
My score: 3.75 stars (of David of course).