Movie Review – The Oath
The Oath has a pretty digestible and close-to-home premise. In the film’s America, the president has created an oath of loyalty that all citizens are required to sign. Our lead character Chris, a raging liberal, refuses to sign, but some of his family members did and with political tension at its highest, it’s Thanksgiving. And…go.
The Oath is the feature directorial debut for Ike Barinholtz, the Mindy Project and film star (Sisters, Blockers), who also wrote the film no doubt, if you’ve seen his Twitter feed, to purge some demons in the Trump era. There are plenty of laughs as the politics and personal insults fly at the dinner table, then the film surprisingly becomes equally dangerous and back to comedy again, then tension, then comedy, etc. and the film has a nimble approach to delving into both tones and taking you on the journey successfully.
The danger comes in the form of a government squad created to enforce signing the oath. Once they enter Chris’ home, all civility goes out the window. It’s a jacked-up version of what we’re all experiencing with a White House that continually reinvents the truth, leaving both sides of social discourse reeling. Barinholtz does justice to both sides, too, making Chris not always likable as he rages against the machine and people like his oath-signing parents seem perfectly charming in their tightly-sealed bubble.
Most of the action takes place at Chris’ home, but there are a few moments where the characters are out in society and it’s an uneasy look at a policy-torn America, with cries of “get out of my country”, not unlike those you can find now on YouTube. And there’s a good portrayal of a new kind of social pot-stirrer, the easily-offended 20-something who does all of their smack talk online, who comes in the form of Abby, portrayed hilariously by Meredith Hagner.
Joining Barinholtz on screen is currently cinema it girl Tiffany Haddish, who plays Chris’ wife, called upon one time too many to be level-headed. Ike’s brother Jon Barinholtz plays his brother on screen but his Pat is a polar opposite, ideology-wise. He has invited Abby to the dinner and the gags add up as she is undermined and oversensitive in all situations. Billy Magnussen is a revelation as one of the steely-eyed oath enforcers and becomes the epicenter of the highest tension the film hits. You’ve seen Magnussen before, but you’ll never forget him in this. John Cho does an impressive job of countering Magnussen’s energy entirely and still being just as memorable.
But let’s not forget why we love Ike – he’s funny! Despite the description in this review that The Oath isn’t afraid to conjure up metaphors for the decaying state of our democracy, it’s funny A LOT. And there are a variety of styles of humor – situational, shock and mostly character-based as the dialogue Barinholtz feeds his characters bounces off the game cast to great effect. However, the film does raise stakes to such outrageous heights that there seems to be no way out for the characters. Their eventual way out is a bit of a stretch, but some of the movie’s best scenes happen in the fallout of the finale.
And it’s in the aftermath of The Oath’s dinner that the characters and myself as viewer are reminded that the current political toxicity we’re all experiencing is just a speed bump in our relationships with other people. In the end, The Oath wants you to keep your eyes on the prize of the value of America as people, not as policy or theory or opinion. Oh, plus it’s funny A LOT.
Directed by: Ike Barinholtz
Release Date: October 12, 2018
Run Time: 93 Minutes
Distributor: Roadside Attractions/Topic Studios