The Pitch: AWOL CIA operative Dan Chase (Jeff Bridges) has been living off the grid in the foothills of Vermont for the last thirty years, the last five of them without his beloved wife (Hiam Abbass). With only his two Rottweilers and a boatload of secrets to keep him company, he’s measuring the last years of his life and hoping to live them out in secret.
Unfortunately, the ghosts of his past come to haunt him, and before long, the seventy-something is fighting off contract killers and going on the run — this time with an old friend, FBI director Harold Harper (John Lithgow), in reluctant pursuit, alongside his dedicated protege Angela Adams (Alia Shawkat). Fighting to survive, Chase will forge an unexpected partnership with Zoe (Amy Brenneman), a divorcee with a haunted past of her own, inadvertently drawing her into his web of intrigue as the noose begins to tighten around them.
The Old Man and the Sea-IA: It’s strange to watch The Old Man in the context of its production: it was delayed, as many things were, by COVID, but most notably also by Bridges’ own lymphoma diagnosis. (Luckily, he’s in remission; neither cancer nor assassins can keep The Dude down.)
But it’s an interesting wrinkle to attach to this show in particular, a series that’s at once a Jack Reacher-esque run-and-gun affair (the kind of thing, say, Liam Neeson would handle now if it was headed straight to Redbox) and a mournful drama about an old man reckoning with the trajectory of his life as he reaches the end of it. And for Bridges, it feels like a referendum on his own career, a reflection on all the Starmans and action heroes and grizzled cowboys he’s ever played, asserting that he’s still got it.
And to his credit, he does. The Old Man plays like a fairly smart, if occasionally rote prestige action thriller that carves its novelty out from Bridges and his more prominent co-stars, a few expertly handled action scenes, and a more elegiac tone than your typical potboiler.
Over the four episodes provided for review, Bridges imbues Chase with a zen weariness that evokes the elan of modern-day Bridges (maybe he doesn’t end as many sentences with “man,” but still); he’s the kind of guy who’s lived a life and is just waiting out his final days, hopefully in peace. In flashbacks, we see he took care of his wife in the final years of her struggle with Huntington’s Disease, warm and reassuring even as she laments him having to see her like this. “I’m the man you promised to take care of,” he tells her warmly. “And who promised to take care of you.”
But of course, in shows like this, peace is hardly guaranteed, and director Jon Watts (blissfully able to step away from the full-CG cartoon spectacle of Spider-Man) shows a solid command of boots-on-the-ground fisticuffs in the first two episodes.