THE OLD MAN. Jeff Bridges has still got it, but the writers don’t support him

Happy is the life of an old man? Not necessarily.

Jakub Piwoński

3 April 2023

Happy is the life of an old man? Not necessarily. And certainly not if your name is Jeff Bridges. The actor recently struggled with a serious illness and although he emerged victorious from this clash, it is difficult to say whether he received his dream, peaceful circumstances for his return. I mean, of course, the nature of his role in The Old Man. The series, available on FX platform, was supposed to be a great return to acting for him. In a way, he succeeded, because for the role he received a Golden Globe nomination. Bridges did not disappoint. However, the screenwriters failed.

The series is about a retired CIA agent. However, the past catches up with him, interrupting the relative idyll in which he stayed. The 70-year-old must take up arms again when he learns that his daughter’s life is in danger. On his heels is the equally old but equally cunning John Lithgow. The intrigue thickens, there are a few corpses, only … the action stops at some point, giving way to rather monotonous dialogues that do not contribute much to the whole.

The creators of the series, Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine, are known for such productions as Jericho or available on Apple Tv+ See. And it seems that they contributed to the fact that this series evokes mainly ambivalent feelings. The Old Man is a textbook example of this rather infamous screenwriting practice, in which the creator unfolds an extremely intriguing situation in the first two episodes, skillfully grading the tension, creating the ground for a poignant conflict, showing the hero in all his glory – strong, efficient and ready for battle. And he does it only to, in a moment, by developing this story, let the viewers know that everything that is most interesting has already been demonstrated. The production poster shows Jeff Bridges and his two dogs. Hiding in fact all the good of this story and referring to the emotions emanating from the best scenes with the participation of the main character. Everything else is vanity of vanities.

There will probably be voices of critics scratching their beards looking for uniqueness in The Old Man, or possibly political intrigues straight from Homeland. Yes, it must be admitted that the creators went against the tide here, not wanting to go in the direction of John Wick and shock the action in every second scene. The theme of revenge and the last attempt to put the past in order is, after all, analogous. But Steinberg and Levine focused on dialogues, thus expressing their opposition to the TikTok trends that affect contemporary cinema (an even better example is Everything Everywhere All at Once). Attention, however, I will say something that will sound like a cliche, but I have the impression that it is not obvious to many. Talking for the sake of talking doesn’t work. It is not enough to deliberately slow down the pace, sit down two actors and let them talk to each other. Well, if this conversation brings something, it opens some doors. The dialogues in The Old Man, however, sound so bloated that you can feel them stretching the rubber to the limit.

I grabbed my head first of all, watching the idea for the character of Amy Brenneman (quite a solid actress, by the way). Am I really supposed to believe that a resolute and calculating agent would just lose his head to a woman he met in fairly random circumstances and allow her to manipulate his budget effectively enough to jeopardize the mission to get his daughter back? I regretted that one of the scenes in which this character disappears from the screen (I won’t say how) turned out to be just a vision of the hero. The creators as if to make it clear “we had a better, more believable idea for the character, but Brenneman was contracted to appear in most of the episodes, so – well – we had to make her screen presence credible.” It’s weak.

I quickly came to the conclusion that this seemingly very decently acted and generally well-executed series (the action takes place in two time frames, which was also demanding from the point of view of editing), loses its original energy quite quickly. It is significant that the first two episodes were directed by Jon Watts – the guy who led the new Spider-Man series to success. When this creator tells us that an aged, retired agent is able to kick ass as well as agents who could be his sons, the illusion of cinema works in such a perfect way that we can easily believe it. Bridges gives it his all and the camera knows how to put it. However, when we get to the actual part of this gameplay, as I mentioned, the air is casually blown out of this story. It’s a pity, because you could sacrifice some length, give less episodes, but more essential ones.

Jakub Piwoński

Jakub Piwoński

Cultural expert, passionate about popular culture, in particular films, series, computer games and comics. He likes to fly away to unknown, fantastic regions, thanks to his fascination with science fiction. Professionally, however, he looks back more often, thanks to his work as a museum promotion specialist, investigating the mysteries of the beginnings of cinematography. His favorite film is "The Matrix", because it combines two areas close to his heart - religion and martial arts.

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