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The Oath (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 4, 2020

The Oath

THE OATH (2018)

Starring Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish, Jon Barinholtz, Carrie Brownstein, Meredith Hagner, Chris Ellis, Nora Dunn, John Cho, Billy Magnussen, Jay Duplass, Priah Ferguson, Henry Kaufman, Max Greenfield, Jon Lovett, Brian Guest, Kevin Rahm, Josh Meyers, Beth Dover, John Ducey, John Donohue, Talia Tabin and Bruce Boxleitner.

Screenplay by Ike Barinholtz.

Directed by Ike Barinholtz.

Distributed by Roadside Attractions. 93 minutes. Rated R.

It’s no secret that the United States – and the world – is falling victim to a widening political divide and an inability to see opposing points of views. The people are becoming warring factions that identify by their news sources – it’s Fox News vs. MSNBC. The red states and the blue states have determined that their views are all that matters.

But what happens when those fault lines make it into the family structure? Can you really handle sitting at the Thanksgiving table with your annoying uncle who loves to quote Rush Limbaugh? Is it possible to spend the entire day avoiding discussing anything political or topical?

It’s fertile ground for a comedy. Hopefully, it will eventually become a better film than The Oath.

Not to say The Oath doesn’t have some good moments. It starts out looking like it will be a potent take down of life in the Trump era. However, in the long run it’s a bit of a miss and a bit of a mess, particularly in the final act where the film completely spins out of control.

The first film written and directed by comic actor Ike Barinholtz has a lot of good ideas. For example, Barinholtz tries to make everything a bit edgy by making his lead character, the progressive, the biggest asshole of the group and the instigator of most of the trouble that occurs.

The Oath takes place in a not-to-distant future (or even an alternate present day) in which the President of the United States sets up a system where all people of the United States have to sign a loyalty oath to the country and the power system. (Though this loyalty oath idea smacks of Donald Trump, the unnamed President appears to be fictional. At one point the dialogue says he comes from North Carolina, assuring that it is not supposed to officially be Trump.)

Barinholtz plays Chris, a well-off middle-class liberal who is addicted to the news and talk radio. His wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish) and daughter are also smart progressives, but most of the rest of his family tends to be more conservative, particularly his brother Pat (played by Barinholtz’ brother Jon) and his Twitter-troll Barbie girlfriend Abbie (Meredith Hagner). When everyone visits for Thanksgiving, Kai begs Chris to lay off the politics, but Chris is so angered by the whole idea of the Oath that he regularly prods his family and particularly Pat and Abbie, who actually tend to mostly behave until Chris confronts them.

This part of the movie is kind of funny and smart. However, it’s not enough substance to carry a feature film, so Barinholtz the writer takes the movie in an entirely different direction. Two government agents (John Cho and Billy Magnussen) show up at the house, apparently to intimidate Chris into signing the oath, and things go wildly out of control. This sudden and dramatic plot turn is neither as interesting nor as incisive as Barinholtz seems to think it is. And it leads to a complete cop out of a climax.

You have to give Barinholtz credit for bravery in taking on such a touchy subject for his debut as a filmmaker. However, in the long run, it seems that the guy is not sure what he wants to say. Instead, The Oath just spins its wheels and eventually crashes spectacularly.

Still, Barinholtz does show promise as a filmmaker. Hopefully his next one will be a little better thought out.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: January 8, 2019.

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