Tales of age and treachery
July 12, 2022 7:43 PM   Subscribe

Perhaps it is due to my own advancing years, but I have enjoyed a few books and films where "age and treachery" win the day or at least make a good show against youth and impudence, and would like some more. Examples inside.

This was brought on, I suppose, by the show The Old Man, which also also reminded of the Smiley trilogy by John Le Carre and its ageing chessmasters (chessmasters are my favorite).

The older experts in Mr Inbetween, Counterpart, etc being one step ahead or (another favorite) doggedly disappointed with their less expert young opponents and dispatching or outplaying them with disappointment rather than relish.

I like it in martial arts and action as well, such as Ip Man taking on younger, more spry opponents and beating them with technique. (Mr Six was a less actiony but interesting take on this.)

There's even the Miss Marple school of the keen mind in the less keen body that unravels the plot in a less muscular way.

Naturally there is a trope in fantasy of the wizard (a la Gandalf) which I like but I feel it stretches the rules a little bit because that's less treachery than godhood, though I suppose there are probably other good examples in genre as well.

No need to spoil it (I know they don't always win), I just like the match-up. Most genres and all eras welcome but I really love a good plot, I probably won't read something just because someone is aged and treacherous in it generally speaking. The treachery must be front and center, ideally revealed at the end when the foul youths think they've won! Damn them!
posted by BlackLeotardFront to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Your taste is wonderful and thank you for all of these recs! Have you watched Succession? Or its movie-length, medieval-setting, very recognizable inspiration The Lion in Winter?
posted by peppercorn at 7:53 PM on July 12, 2022 [9 favorites]

I recommend Wheel of the Infinite, a fantasy novel by Martha Wells -- of Murderbot fame. The lead character is a late-middle-aged woman.
posted by suelac at 7:59 PM on July 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

There’s a great subplot in Game of Thrones with Joffrey, a horrible young prince, who (spoiler) is unexpectedly bested. Episodes 4.2 and 7.3 are the two ends of the arc.

And in Everything Everywhere All At Once, a middle-aged couple become badass fighters.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:08 PM on July 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

“Let’s face it girls… I’m older and I have more insurance…”

Fried Green Tomatos
posted by Windopaene at 8:27 PM on July 12, 2022 [20 favorites]

In Storm of Swords (the 3rd Game of Thrones book) there is a very shocking "age+treachery beats gallantry+youth" plot.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:59 PM on July 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

The movie Red (and Red 2) with Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, et al. The plot is a bit soft, but the oldsters take on the youngsters.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:33 PM on July 12, 2022 [8 favorites]

The Laurence Oliver/Michael Caine Sleuth is a good example of this I think, there's also a 2007 remake in which Caine plays the older man versus Jude Law.
posted by juv3nal at 9:35 PM on July 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest, in which the seasoned, cynical professional arrives in a corrupt town to turn the arrogant competing gangs against each other, from which also came Yojimbo (same, but in Japan) and A Fistful of Dollars (same, but in the West).
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:59 PM on July 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Spoiler warningThe Score is basically this theme, in a two-hour heist scenario.

posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:23 PM on July 12, 2022

Maybe not quite as extreme an age different as some of your examples, but Takashi Shimura in the Seven Samurai kicks ass. I'm also astonished to realize he was only 50 at the time. Seconding Jojimbo too. (And Unforgiven, I guess, though I can't really recommend it.)
posted by eotvos at 11:48 PM on July 12, 2022

In science fiction books, Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space series includes some of that. (And a whole lot of other stuff.)
posted by eotvos at 11:53 PM on July 12, 2022

Walter Matthau in the 1980 spy farce Hopscotch?
posted by mumkin at 12:10 AM on July 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

A scattershot approach, see if anything appeals:
The classic My Man Godfrey. Or its 1980s crypto-rewrite Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Both are 'man of experience tames a household of rich nincompoops'.
Brunettes vs Older Thieves: Demi Moore vs Michael Caine in Flawless. Catherine Zeta Jones vs Sean Connery in Entrapment.
Heists, Cont'd: Pierce Brosnan (graying) and Salma Hayek (immortal) vs a truly witless Woody Harrelson in After the Sunset. Robert DeNiro vs a backpfeifengesicht Edward Norton in The Score. Meryl Streep's retired whitewater rafting guide vs Kevin Bacon's bank robber in The River Wild. Gene Hackman vs everybody in just plain Heist.
Sir Ralph Richardson's wizard in Dragonslayer.
Clint Eastwood's aging Marine instructor in Heartbreak Ridge.
Qui and Wah Yuen as the landlords in Kung Fu Hustle.
Mark Rylance's tailor with a secret in The Outfit.
posted by bartleby at 2:02 AM on July 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

You will probably enjoy everything that Jonathan Bank's ex-cop "security consultant" Mike Ehrmentrout does, in Better Call Saul or Breaking Bad. Or Walter White too, for that matter.
posted by hovey at 3:06 AM on July 13, 2022 [4 favorites]

Down and Out in BH is a remake of Boudu saved from drowning
posted by brujita at 3:18 AM on July 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

You might enjoy the novel of The Old Man on which the series is so loosely based as to be unrecognizable and it does a better job explaining how he is able to outwit the bad guys. It's by Thomas Perry.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:24 AM on July 13, 2022


Cliff Young at 61 won an ultra-marathon in 1983. His finish was 10 hours in front of 2nd place. Basically he didn’t sleep and just kept running.
posted by alchemist at 3:52 AM on July 13, 2022

Notes on a Scandal
posted by bearette at 4:15 AM on July 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

I think you would very much enjoy The Thursday Murder Club, about a group of retirees who use their considerable life experience to solve crimes those youngsters on the police force haven't cracked.
posted by yankeefog at 4:17 AM on July 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

Nobody's Fool with Paul Newman. Perhaps not quite what you want, but a not too intense movie about a canny guy.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:57 AM on July 13, 2022

The original UK House of Cards, which stars Sir Ian Richardson as a fiendishly clever and deeply treacherous character. Based on a book of the same name.
posted by Mournful Bagel Song at 6:01 AM on July 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

Not everyone in the Slow Horses series is old, but the chief of the department, Jackson Lamb – played by Gary Oldman in the TV version of the first book in the series – is an old fox, and Mick Herron makes him a mean, disgusting old guy too, with a wicked turn of phrase. Plus of course he always knows more about what's going on than his younger operatives.
posted by zadcat at 7:20 AM on July 13, 2022 [5 favorites]

The Ladykillers, maybe? A sweet elderly widow is renting out her spare room to a group of five guys who claim to be musicians who need the rehearsal space - but they're actually thieves planning a heist, and even briefly enlist her in the plot. But then she discovers the truth and says she REALLY needs to go talk to the police about it, and the thieves all start plotting to kill her - and she always manages to just avoid their efforts...

(Note that there are two versions - the 1955 original was an English film with Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers amongst the thieves, and is the superior version. The Coen Brothers directed a more recent remake set in Mississippi, with Tom Hanks as the criminals' ringleader; it didn't fare as well.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:22 AM on July 13, 2022

Albert Finney in Miller's Crossing!
posted by cakelite at 8:25 AM on July 13, 2022

Any of the film adaptations of Les Liasons Dangereuses? Specifically the costume dramas and not the contemporary updates.

It's about adults who know better fucking up kids' lives. I personally like Valmont better than Dangerous Liasons but my mom has the opposite opinion.
posted by fiercekitten at 8:34 AM on July 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

In The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, the title character keeps on winning seemingly by allowing everybody else's treachery to bring them undone. It's a corker. And thanks for this question, because it's alerted me to the existence of a sequel which I shall now attempt to download and watch.
posted by flabdablet at 9:18 AM on July 13, 2022

I recently enjoyed The Old Woman With the Knife in which a hired assassin contemplates retirement while carrying on a complicated rivalry with a much younger killer.

Full disclosure: the very opening scene made me mutter, "Here we go." I thought it was going to be a predictable "badass old lady takes comical vengeance on obnoxious people" setup. But that was mostly to do with the personality of the first target and was not a thing throughout the book.
posted by BibiRose at 9:25 AM on July 13, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Love all these suggestions. I've definitely read and watched a few so I know we're on the right track. I'll leave the question open for now so anyone finding it in the next week or so can pile on! Thanks everyone!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:28 AM on July 13, 2022

Colin Firth was only 53, but they did call him "granddaddy" in The Kingsman's bar pub scene
posted by olopua at 10:35 AM on July 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

Harry Brown - "An elderly ex-serviceman and widower looks to avenge his best friend's murder by doling out his own form of justice." (IMDB)
posted by TimHare at 2:27 PM on July 13, 2022

Would Amadeus fit?
posted by Threeve at 2:27 PM on July 13, 2022

Duplicity, although it's people in their 30s (?) vs. a dude in his 60s (?).
posted by praemunire at 3:17 PM on July 13, 2022

Also, Matthew McConaughey takes on an ambitious young Henry Golding in The Gentlemen, which honestly seemed like a film-length therapy session for Guy Ritchie and his feelings of anxiety about not being able to keep up now that he's hitting late middle age, so often does some form of this trope recur throughout (including Colin Farrell somehow kicking the asses of several young punks with knives in a chip shop?). I hesitate to recommend the film, though, as it's very Ritchie-ish and some of the Ritchie mannerisms have aged very poorly.
posted by praemunire at 3:20 PM on July 13, 2022

The Mrs. Pollifax series is charming and great - elderly widow is bored of garden club and goes to the CIA to offer her services. They repeatedly hire her as a simple "tourist" courier and she repeatedly gets into far more treacherous situations. She does karate. Her rivals are not specifically young (although younger than her) and she usually has a young sidekick.
posted by acidic at 9:10 PM on July 13, 2022 [2 favorites]

Belatedly, I was just looking up a book for entirely different reasons, and the very first review on Amazon is:

5.0 out of 5 stars
Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.
Excellent space adventure. Fun to have an older character, particularly a woman, since there are lots of us older female scifi fans out there and we like characters we can cheer on. Would highly recommend this one!

The book is Red Noise by John P. Murphy. (I haven't read it yet.)
posted by wintersweet at 6:27 AM on July 15, 2022

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