The Old Man series (FX network, streaming on Hulu) has Jeff Bridges, John Lithgow, Alia Shawkat and Amy Brenneman in a scaldingly convoluted espionage thriller that speaks of, if not to, the Byzantine geopolitical warfare of recent decades. Bridges and Lithgow are aging CIA operatives drawn back into the fray when clandestine moves and countermoves of past missions begin to resurface in dangerously undesirable ways. There are personal stakes as well—the daughter (Shawkat) of Bridges’ character is working in Lithgow’s crew and might be a double agent. The elders try to keep a professional lid on everything, but personal dramas intrude at nearly every turn, including Bridges’ relationship with a woman (Brenneman) who gives him shelter in a moment of crisis. The four-way tangle of rooting interests in this seven-episode series makes for powerful emotions and stark insights in a tale that thoroughly resists good guy/bad guy simplifications.
Outer Range, an Amazon Prime series, begins as something of a modern western in the Yellowstone mode but soon takes increasingly mysterious plunges into other dimensions—chiefly by way of a huge and seemingly bottomless hole that is discovered on a remote stretch of ranch land that is both coveted and contested. The result is a fascinating and vertiginous blend of soapy horse opera, sci-fi fantasy and myth.
In a sense, Outer Range operates in the famous “outer limits”—where, in this case, the earth is mostly flat, except for the precipitous curves and cycles of human existence. The tale features Josh Brolin and Will Patton as virulently rivalrous ranchers, each with cantankerous wives, conflicted pairs of sons and dynamic daughters variously involved in the fray. Lili Taylor (as Brolin’s wife) and Imogen Poots (as the mysterious “hippie” who pitches a tent on that eerie rangeland) are standouts in the big supporting cast. Patton’s antic lunacy deserves a companion miniseries of its own. And Brolin has placed another monumental landmark on his trail through desolate 21st century spaces—No Country For Old Men, two Sicario movies and now this.
The feature-length Montana Story (available on multiple streaming platforms) centers on the fraught reunion of an estranged pair of siblings—which is occasioned by the impending death of their father, a fearsomely tempestuous Montana rancher. Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) and her younger brother Cal (Owen Teague) have different mothers and sharply contrasting attitudes toward their father, and the return to the home ranch brings them into mutual confrontations with all those tangled relationships, including their own. What ensues in this “neo-western” is a profoundly tangled (and very moving) rite of passage for two still-young adults.
The understated lead performances are especially fine, and the writer-director team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel (creators of the Lake Tahoe-based The Deep End, with Tilda Swinton) get richly nuanced work out of a diverse supporting cast and grandly evocative imagery out of the Montana setting.
In the Iranian Hit the Road (on multiple streaming platforms), a family of four is on a mysteriously urgent journey through rugged terrain. Mom (Pantea Panahiha), a woman of dignity and grace, sits in front. Dad (Hasan Majuni), a gruffly cantankerous type, sits in back with the cast of his broken left leg protruding between the two front seats. Little Brother (Rayan Sarlak)—smart, restless and very vocal—is back there too, and the ailing family dog is in the back of the back.
Big Brother (Amin Simiar), intense and mostly silent, is doing the driving. The rambunctious biplay between Mom, Dad and Little Brother sets a tone of genially sardonic comedy, but the older brother’s grim silences are the first sign that a serious mission underlies the family’s journey into sunlit wilderness. Filmmaker Panah Panahi, son of a major Iranian auteur making his feature-film debut, conjures an impressive mix of comic realism and undercurrents of moral and political seriousness.
Compartment No. 6 (Amazon Prime), from Finnish writer-director Juho Kuosmanen, is also something of a road movie, but in this case the journey is by rail. Laura (Seidi Haarla), a young Finnish woman studying archaeology in Russia, is on her way to the remote locale of some ancient petroglyphs and finds herself stuck sharing a railway sleeper compartment with Ljoha (Yuri Borisov), a bumptious young Russian on his way to construction work in the same region.
The three-day journey in close quarters puts the ill-matched pair at odds in a variety of ways, but a briefly companionate relationship begins to take shape. Kuosmanen and his actors steer clear of cultural and emotional oversimplifications, with the result that Compartment No. 6 becomes an intriguing dual portrait of two people getting a little lost in their young, modern lives and then beginning to understand themselves a little more.