'The Old Man' review: Jeff Bridges hits the target with ageing spy thriller

Dan Chase (Jeff Bridges) in The Old Man (Disney+)
Dan Chase (Jeff Bridges) in The Old Man (Disney+)

To quote Dylan Thomas: 'Many rage against the dying of the light, as advancing years and dwindling faculties see them stripped of their dignity. Mortality, legacy and those we leave behind us become more important as that time ebbs away.' Nowhere else are those sentiments felt more deeply than in The Old Man, which hits Disney+ from 28 September.

Created by Robert Levine and Jonathan Steinberg (Black Sails), this adaptation of the Thomas Perry novel stars Hollywood icon Jeff Bridges as Dan Chase, a retired CIA operative who lives alone after losing his wife Abbey (Hiam Abbass) to Huntington’s disease.

This pre-occupation wheedles its way into his life, as he obsesses over his declining mobility and loss of mental acuity. This peppers The Old Man with moments of heart wrenching pathos, and reels audiences in through the gentle application of dramatic understatement.

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Introduced in the darkness before dawn as a bedside clock marks his night time movements, audiences are given the first elements of a masterclass in small screen acting. When Dan gets to his feet for his umpteenth bathroom break, Bridges is a mass of elderly inflictions. These ailments meld with lovelorn flashbacks to his time as a full-time carer, allowing this Oscar-winning actor to lean into the emotional notes and ground his creation.

Jeff Bridges as Dan Chase in The Old Man. (Prashant Gupta/FX_

In the opening twenty minutes of this first episode director Jon Watts (Spiderman: Far from Home) gives Bridges space as he establishes routines and imbues Chase with a world-weary wherewithal. This disarms audiences in terms of what follows, but confirms beyond doubt that with Jeff Bridges at the helm of Dan Chase, The Old Man promises to be a portrayal of infinite complexity.

Following a night time intrusion from an unwanted guest, which slowly reveals the skillset of this amiable octogenarian, Chase is forced to move on due to circumstance. With two dogs, a burner phone and some essential provisions this quickly segues into road trip territory, while other players enter the game.

Dan Chase (Jeff Bridges) in The Old Man (Disney+)
Harold Harper (John Lithgow) in The Old Man (Disney+)

Introduced in a quiet moment with his young grandson, Harold Harper (John Lithgow) is first into the fray. As elements of a family tragedy are implied, The Old Man quickly reveals its second acting ace, as Lithgow effortlessly switches between parental responsibilities, personal grief and professional accountability.

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His connection with Dan Chase is made in minutes and their on-screen chemistry, achieved over the phone, is somehow more effective in maintaining momentum than people might imagine.

Watch a trailer for The Old Man

In a slow burn set piece, which finds Chase pursued by shady assailants on the road, essential exposition and long-term friendships are established quickly, while a crucially drawn out face off provides audiences with some genuinely visceral moments. These encounters are done with precision rather than speed, feeding into the experience which comes with age where accuracy and energy conservation are key.

The Old Man also leans heavily into the importance of family, which proves pivotal to a central thread which runs throughout this story. Chase has made choices which have created enemies, which in turn has put other people in danger. That threat has now been resurrected after over thirty years in stasis. An old wound has been re-opened, a personal affront has been recalled and someone is out for blood.

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Beyond the thematic importance of ageing which proliferates The Old Man, whether that is in relation to old enemies, old friends or old grunges – this show also focuses on renewal. There are opportunities for a fresh start irrespective of age, as people are inherently hopeful in the face of adversity. Which is why Zoe (Amy Brenneman) plays such an important role in this show, rather than being relegated to a paper-thin love interest.

Zoe McDonald (Amy Brenneman) in The Old Man (Disney+)
Zoe McDonald (Amy Brenneman) in The Old Man (Disney+)

Flashbacks might give audiences an insight into how Harper and Chase first connected over ideological beliefs in Afghanistan, but those scenes go beyond ideas and linger longer on the emotional connections that are made.

In many ways The Old Man focuses on old fashioned ideals, where men are marked out as both protector and provider for those they hold dear. Which is why, when Zoe McDonald comes into his life, she represents more than mere companionship.

That she is granted an emotional backstory, which elevates and enriches the performance of her co-star says much for this series as a whole. There is a consideration which has gone into this adaptation, which supersedes the needs of a marketplace to satisfy subscribers.

Jeff Bridges and Amy Brenneman in The Old Man. (Prashant Gupta/FX)

The Old Man is ultimately a tale of decline and renewal, grounded by an actor who may has mellowed with age, yet retains all the magnetism of a golden age Hollywood icon.

For those who like their drama capable of mixing grounded character studies with a low-key John Wick vibe, The OId Man might just prove to be one of the best choices they can make on Disney+ in 2022.

The Old Man is available to stream on Disney+ from 28 September.