Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw famously wrote that “You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.” If Mr. Shaw had been writing a review of FX’s new series, The Old Man, he might have substituted the word killing for laughing, and probably wrapped up his review with that one sentence.
The series’s eponymous old man in question is played by a weary and creaky Jeff Bridges. He portrays a former CIA officer who has been laying low for a number of years, living under various aliases, and staying vigilant for the day when “they” come for him. He is a pensioner in his 60s, and seemingly way past his prime, as conveyed effectively by Mr. Bridges’ groaning, limping, huffing, and puffing when he undertakes even simple tasks like getting out of bed. It is a tribute to Bridges’ acting chops that I cannot decide if that is really him, or if he is simply playing the role using all of those subtle techniques to convey his character’s physical degradation. Maybe it is some of both.
Regardless, as the series progresses, we come to find out that the old man still has what it takes to defend himself and those he cares about. He proves lethal, physically capable, and damn hard to kill, despite struggling physically through every fist fight and shoot-out. It is like watching an aging superstar athlete drafted back to play against 20-year-olds in their prime. He is determined to prevent those young whipper-snappers from getting the best of him. I described the show’s main character to someone on Twitter as a “retirement home Jason Bourne,” and I did not mean it in a pejorative way. In fact, it is the central premise of the plot, and a fresh take on the “lethal CIA operative” trope.
Much as the Jason Bourne movies are unrealistic in almost every way, there is plenty of the fantastical in this story, too. Without giving away too much of the plot, suffice it to say that the U.S. government generally does not kowtow to the wishes of foreign entities when it comes to exacting revenge on U.S. citizens. Nor does your average CIA officer excel at hand-to-hand and close-quarters combat, and precision shooting.
In addition, the show’s plot strays far from the plot of the 2017 novel on which it is very loosely based.
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At first, these discrepancies made it hard for me to enjoy the show. That, and the somewhat slow pace of the first two episodes, almost made me give it up. However, I powered through the third episode, and by its end, I was hooked. By that point in the series, I had realized that this was an almost altogether different story than the novel — in a good way — beefed up to give more complexity and depth to Perry’s sparse plot.
The elements that brought me around and hooked me on the show were many. First, the acting is great all around, especially on the part of Lithgow (no surprise), Bridges, and Alia Shawkat (who plays a character called “Angela”). Actor Dan Heck is not too bad either as a young Jeff Bridges. He and actor Christopher Redman do pretty spot-on versions of Lithgow and Bridges as younger men.
I also have to mention “Dave” and “Carol,” the old man’s two loyal dogs and central characters in their own way. At first, they appear to be typical canine companions, but by the end of the first episode, we come to realize they are much more. In a later episode, there is some real emotional heft to a scene in which they play a key part. Again, no spoilers.
It is hard to give a thorough review of the show without giving away too much, but let us simply say that age is just a number when it comes to Bridges’ old man spy. He evades forces out to get him, perseveres through multiple fights, and manages to stay one step ahead of his pursuers most of the time. The character’s age is a key component of the plot, which is a refreshing take on the action-espionage genre. His age is almost another character featured in the show, and the flashback scenes showing how the old man ended up in the predicament he is in add depth and texture to his and others’ character.
In sum, The Old Man is entertaining, suspenseful, and a pretty fun ride. Suspend your disbelief in some areas, and you will enjoy going along on the adventure. As George Bernard Shaw might have written, “You don’t stop killing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop killing.”
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Anthony Joseph Pandolfino says
Separate and similar fact about the CIA related to all government and military personnel-
In the 1960s battery had been created during an error in situations happening in America with other opposing countries-
Turns out to be all that means is that civilians designate your job in the government!
I never thought it was to fair!