They weren’t joking when they called Jeff Bridges’ new Disney+ thriller The Old Man. Bridges is 72, so definitely in the pensioner zone — but the series goes to such extremes to communicate his decrepitude it’s a wonder he hasn’t turned to dust by the conclusion of the first episode, like that knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
He huffs, he sighs, he uncurls his frame with bone-creaking laboriousness (and is haunted by dreams about his late, dementia-stricken wife). The show is written as a rabbit-hole mystery. But, half an hour in, the big unanswered question is why Bridges’ character hasn’t invested in a Zimmer frame and chairlift. A sequence in which he totters to the loo unfolds like a set piece before the credits in a Bond movie.
As with all old people in spy films — which is what this is, albeit shrunk down for streaming — Dan Chase has a dark past. How dark is not initially revealed, but when he shoots dead an intruder 15 minutes into the first episode, it’s clear he didn’t spend his working life approving expenses in an accountancy firm.
He also, naturally, has a nemesis. Here it’s in the shape of FBI man, Harold Harper, who is played by John Lithgow — exactly the actor you want as Bridges’ guilt-ridden enemy in an autumnal thriller. Why guilt-ridden? That would be to spoil it; suffice to say Dan’s willingness to do whatever it took to keep his country safe back in the day crossed many moral red lines. He and Harold know where the bodies are buried.
The Old Man is slow and talky (and huffy whenever Bridges has to get up and walk). Still, it’s worth slogging through if only to see Bridges and Lithgow throw sparks off one another. They don’t have all that much screen time together, yet their chemistry makes the series comes alive even when they’re merely nattering on the phone.
There are flashbacks to Dan as a younger man making mischief in the world of global espionage. Were this a big Hollywood production, we would no doubt have to endure the ghoulish gimmick of a digitally dewrinkled Bridges. (The actor was one of the first subjected to this ritual, in Tron: Legacy, in 2010.) Thankfully, The Old Man plays it old-school by casting a younger actor (Bill Heck) as pre–varicose veins Dan. We are thus spared trip through the SFX uncanny valley of CGI deageing.
Bridges is perhaps still best known for the greying space-cake boomer he portrayed in The Big Lebowski, in 1998. That film dogged him for much of the following decade. With The Old Man he has moved on. The dude does not abide. He’s gone rickety and grumpy, and it’s a chore to visit the toilet.
But in that unpromising swirl of septuagenarian indignity Bridges locates the essence of a gutsy and compelling story. For this grizzled Tinseltown veteran, The Old Man feels like the start of something new.