The Old Man is a new seven-part limited series on Disney Plus, one of the best streaming services right now. It sees Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski) and John Lithgow (3rd Rock From the Sun) go head-to-head in a modern-day spy thriller. It’s no Bourne or Bond but these two legends on the small screen make this a very watchable show.
What is The Old Man about?
Dan Chase is old. He struggles to put his socks on, he visits his doctor with mysterious and undiagnosed ailments, he feeds his dogs and he spends his days alone in an empty house that mirrors his internal monologue. Recovering from the death of his wife he is an image of stoic isolation, separated from the world and with only the occasional phone call from an unseen daughter as human company.
Dan chase can also kill. In fact, only when killing does Dan Chase show the true nature of his character.
‘The Old Man’ charts the story of Dan (Bridges), an ex-CIA assassin and his cat-and-mouse battle against the very agency he once dedicated his life to and Harold Harper (Lithgow) the head of the department, brought out of semi-retirement to kill him. It seems that 40 years after some very illegal and unsavoury work done by Dan in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that ghosts from his past have returned and want him dead, and they are not keen on letting old age be the cause of it.
The Old Man storyline
Based on the 2017 book by Thomas Perry, The Old Man see the twists and turns of Dan's escape, his relationship with Harold and the complication of the women in his life. His daughter, his wife and his possible new relationship.
There is a Spanish proverb that states, ‘A restful old age is the reward for a youth well spent’ and in this we see the crux of the problem for Dan Chase. His youth was not well spent. We see a younger dan in the 80s (a fantastic Bill Heck giving his best Bridges) at war with the Soviets on behalf of the CIA. We see him fighting alongside and ultimately betraying the Afghan warlord Hamzad who he pledged to follow. We watch him kill and torture and kidnap all in the name of a nation that is unaware of his very existence.
This was not a peaceful life and certainly does not lead to a ‘restful old age’ and from all this and 40 years later we see a man who begs the question, how far will men go, even at the end, to survive? Chase is driven by an all-consuming compulsion to fight and live despite there seemingly being very little reason to do so.
Running parallel to this is the story of Harold Harper (Lithgow). A CIA handler back in the 80s and now forced to hunt and kill his greatest asset and friend. A calm and calculated man with influence and reach, Harper straddles the lines of doing his duty and still after 40 years trying to protect the very man he is targeting. The relationship between the two men is complicated, fully realised and serves as a solid backbone to the show.
The rest of the ensemble cast make up what could be described as the women in Dan Chase’s life. His wife Abbey Chase, shown in sequential flashbacks (Hiam Abbass and Leem Lubany), His secret daughter Angela Adams (Alia Shawkat) and his new partner Zoe (Amy Brenneman). These characters and the time spent on them do flesh out the story but also in many ways feels like a bolt-on to what is effectively a two-man show.
Notably from episode four onwards with a change in writers, there is a greater emphasis paid to them and the merging of the women into one seemingly focused strand that instead of adding to the story seems to detract from what the viewer grew to love in the first three episodes. Less Bridges and Lithgow does not a story make.
Why should I watch The Old Man?
The key to The Old Man is Bridges as Dan Chase. He gives an outstanding performance as a haunted and deeply complicated man. Many have described him as being ‘fragile’ but I did not see this at all. Despite his age and physical decline, it is obvious that Chase is still lethal, cunning, determined and fully capable of doing anything and everything necessary to survive. Bridges gives Chase an air of grace, intelligence and sadness that comes from a lifetime of outstanding stage and screen work. This is his show, completely.
Lithgow, as you would expect, is perfect in his role. Solid, determined, disciplined, focused and utterly ruthless. It's the best TV role for him since his season four role as Arthur Mitchell in Dexter and it is always great to see him, especially when bouncing against someone like Bridges.
Directed by Jon Watts and written by Robert Levine (Black Sails, See, Jericho), The Old Man is a solid character-led drama which benefits massively from its casting. Bridges steals the show, as he should, and there really isn't a bad performance to be seen.
The direction, cinematography and sound are all solid. The script, especially in the first three episodes, is sharp and well paced and the show only seems to lose focus a little after episode four, with the poor decision to delve more into the surrounding characters and some overlong flashback scenes in Afghanistan. While these do help to drive the narrative forward I could not help but feel they took away from what I really enjoyed in the show, the cat-and-mouse drama between a focused Dan Chase and a determined Harold Harper.
How can I watch it?
The Old Man is available now on Disney Plus in the UK and Hulu in the US. Considering the huge levels of talent on screen is well worth a watch.