It's an uncomfortable question: Did our government sell out the values we fought for in World War II to get a leg up in the Cold War?
Amazon Prime Video's new streaming series "Hunters" rubs our noses in that question, digging out uncomfortable facts and blowing them up into an epic action show about a squad devoted to taking out America's Nazi elite in 20th-century New York City.
Set in 1977, the show takes its inspiration from the real-life "Operation Paperclip," a United States government program that identified high-value German scientists and engineers in the waning days of WWII, brushed off their Nazi dirt and quietly installed them in American cities with (how to say it?) less Holocaust-sensitve populations.
"Fake news," you cry? Tell that to Wernher von Braun, the genius NASA scientist who launched our space program after running Germany's V2 rocket program, which used concentration camp inmates as slave labor during the war.
"Hunters" leans in to this reality and takes the story of real-life Nazi hunters and spins it into a wild yarn set in 1977 New York City about a vigilante crew that takes its inspiration from drive-in exploitation movies and action pictures.
Al Pacino is Meyer Offerman, a wealthy Holocaust survivor who funds an action squad that's determined to hunt down Nazi war criminals and exterminate them with extreme prejudice. Logan Lerman ("Fury," the "Percy Jackson" movies) is Jonah Heidelbaum, a comic book store clerk who is drawn into the Hunters world after his grandmother, also a Holocaust survivor, is murdered by hidden Nazis in America.
The Hunters team also includes a married couple of elderly Holocaust surivors (Carol Kane and Saul Rubinek); a Jewish-American action movie star who's pissed that he's losing parts to Dustin Hoffman and Richard Dreyfus (Josh Radnor); an Asian-American Vietnam War veteran (Louis Ozawa); a female African-American activist with martial-arts skills (Roxy Jones); and a nun who was born a Jewish girl and spirited out of Germany at the begninning of the war to be raised in a British convent (Kate Mulvaney).
What we've got is a rag-tag team that's inspired by the misfits and outsiders who populate Jonah's comic books. And, while some of it is played for laughs, they're also a surprisingly violent and lethal crew.
Lena Olin plays The Colonel, leader of the Nazi conspiracy in America who is in possession of one whopper of a secret. She's leading a plot to recreate the Final Solution by infiltrating the world's snack supply, and only the Hunters can stop her.
Well, there's also a female African-American FBI agent (Jerrika Hinton) who's noticed a pattern of elderly German immigrants reaching a bad end. She starts investigating and ends up chasing both the Hunters and the Nazis.
The show plays fast and loose with history. A disguised Nazi infiltrates President Jimmy Carter's cabinet and manipulates administration policy to the conspiracy's advantage. Wernher von Braun doesn't really die of cancer in June 1977; he fakes his death and disappears into the California woods after aiding the Nazi comeback.
The program periodically flashes back to the stories of men and women in the concentration camps during the war. All the humor and attitude gets set aside as we learn the stories of what drives the Hunters to hunt in modern-day America.
The show's creator David Weil says he was inspired by the stories he heard about Nazi hunters growing up, but he's filtered those true stories through "Death Wish," "Inglourious Basterds," kung fu movies, comic books, "Kill Bill" and (most likely) "The Six Million Dollar Man."
"Hunters" is loud, violent, irreverent, cold-blooded and profane. If viewers embrace (or can get past) the presentation, there's a serious story about how descendants of Holocaust victims (and the rest of us) have a moral obligation to both remember the horrors and act to prevent them from happening again.
Production values on the show are exceptional, and the creators (who include "Get Out" director Jordan Peele) have gone out of their way to create a remarkable facsimile of late '70s New York City. While it's not quite at the level of "Mrs. Maisel" extravagance, this seems like another Amazon show that got a generous production budget to make an expensive period piece.
As someone who lived in Huntsville, Alabama, during the Operation Paperclip era, I've been waiting my whole life for anyone in popular culture to go Nazi hunting in Alabama. "Hunters" finally fulfills that wish but presents Huntsville as moonlight and magnolias instead of the cluster of low-rent, mid-century modern office parks and subdivisions that it actually was.
That's just me. I should probably instead praise the inventive use of music cues that capture the era with a few famous songs ("Night Moves," "Paint It, Black") and a long list of well-chosen deep cuts (The Weirdos' "We Got the Neutron Bomb," the incredible choice of Top Drawer's "Song of a Sinner" over the closing credits).
"Hunters" also presents an impressive cast to play the Nazis: Dylan Baker ("The Good Wife" and a hundred other television shows); William Sadler (Heywood in "The Shawshank Redemption"); Keir Dullea (Dave in "2001: A Space Odyssey"); Ronald Guttman (Lt. Melekhin in "The Hunt for Red October"); and Victor Slezak (President U.S. Grant on "Hell on Wheels") all make the most of their onscreen time as the personification of evil.
"Hunters" resolves its season one plot, shocks with some huge revelations in the last episode and sets things up for a second season mission overseas.
We haven't really learned exactly why everyone is on the team yet, so the show most definitely has more stories to tell.
Here's hoping Amazon keeps the checkbook open and gives us an equally well-funded round two.