The Old Man Review: Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow Shine

Live long enough, and circumstances will force you to take stock of the big decisions you’ve made. Did they turn out how you’d expected? How much did you risk? Which person did you sacrifice?

For the title character of FX’s The Old ManThis is the moment that has been long overdue. Dan Chase (among many other aliases), was played by Jeff Bridges. A rogue CIA agent who has been hiding off-grid but in plain sight for decades, he is haunted by nightmare visions of his late wife—and by his paranoid conviction that he’s suffering from a cognitive decline similar to the one she experienced. The real threat to Chase’s life comes from the outside. It appears that he is being driven by his past and will be put back on the streets. This could threaten his relationship with his daughter. But what makes this adaptation of Thomas Perry’s 2017 best seller, premiering June 16, more than just another boomer action-adventure epic is its interrogation of the selfish, destructive, and self-righteous Chase’s claim to heroism.

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The people who surround him have suffered a terrible loss. Harold Harper (John Lithgow), an ex-colleague who is now an enemy at the FBI, is summoned to help lead the manhunt for Chase. Lithgow, portraying an erudite company man with an adoring protégé (Alia Shawkat), makes the ideal foil for Bridges, whose all but feral Chase can still switch on the rugged charm when necessary. Harold’s ambivalence about capturing his old cohort adds pathos to the beautifully shot show’s many imaginative action scenes. In cozy homes as well as in dark, deserted stretches of road, Bridges—who in real life is a 72-year-old lymphoma survivor—believably vanquishes, or at least evades, pursuers half his age.

This is as thrilling as The Old Man generally is in the four episodes provided for review (out of seven total), it’s also too sloppy to be a great political thriller. It contains plot twists large enough for a C-5 to navigate. It takes a frustratingly long time to get a sense, via flashbacks to his CIA tenure, of who Chase is, what matters to him, and what he did to blow up his life all those years ago—suspense that doesn’t serve much of a thematic purpose.

THE OLD MAN — Jeff Bridges portrays Dan Chase while Amy Brenneman plays Zoe McDonald.

Prashant Gupta / FX Network

It flirts with sexism. In the course of his journey, the widower meets a divorced woman, Amy Brenneman’s Zoe, who seems desperate for companionship and can’t stop talking about her ex. Yet as she becomes entangled in Chase’s crisis, the character deepens, and what initially comes across as a thoughtless, one-dimensional depiction from creators Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine gains purpose. Chase makes Zoe his avatar to achieve his goals. He envisions how to escape from his fear and kill Zoe while he is on a tension-filled sequence.

The question that coalesces, midway through the season, applies to so many stories about the lone action heroes whom viewers never stop rooting for, even when their crusades leave an enormous body count: Why should one troubled man’s continued survival justify so much suffering? Chase has had a life full of tragic decisions and his motivations could be deeper than they realize. Maybe, The Old ManAs the name suggests, survival is not all that important.

It appears in TIME’s June 20, 2022 issue.

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