Starring Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish, Billy Magnussen, John Cho, Meredith Hagner, Nora Dunn, Carrie Brownstein, Jon Barinholtz
Taking advantage of the politically charged and divided society, actor turned director Ike Barinholtz (Blockers) was inspired by his own family Thanksgiving conversation to write this script. The Oath isn’t the first film to try and make a profit off Trump era division, nor is it likely to be the last. One line in The Oath even uses the word “purge,” suggesting to some that this story might be similar to “The Purge,” but this film manages to avoid the themes of that series. Barinholtz, who is friends with Oscar winner Jordan Peele, sought the Get Out director’s advice for this film, and it shows. Barinholtz struggles though, to balance the ironic situational comedy of The Oath with the film’s violent conflict. Haddish (Girls Trip) might be the most surprising element of the entire production, playing the most reserved and clear-headed character of the group.
As Kai (Haddish) and Chris (Ike Barinholtz) prepare for the annual family Thanksgiving at their house, everyone has promised not to discuss politics or talk about the news. “I was insistent on that in my e-mail,” states Momma Eleanor (Dunn), interrupting the first of many heated discussions. Chris and his brother Pat (Jon Barinholtz) don’t agree on anything, but Pat’s girlfriend Abbie (Hagner) pushes Chris over the edge with her hardcore conservative views. They are arguing about whether or not to sign “the Oath,” a loyalty agreement issued by the government. While not mandatory, the government has offered incentives to those that do sign the oath, creating resistance groups and protests across America. When two government agents show up at Kai and Chris’s house, things quickly spiral out of control after they refuse to cooperate.
Barinholtz struggles, to balance the ironic situational comedy of The Oath with the film's violent conflict.
The two brothers playing two brothers, arguing opposite sides of an issue reflects something that often occurs between brothers, friends, and neighbors. You will recognize every perspective in Barinholtz’ script; from the mother who says, “What’s happening in the world doesn’t apply to me, I don’t care,” to the sister (Brownstein) who agrees to disagree just to keep the peace. When Barinholtz keeps his story based in reality it’s engaging, even exhilarating at times. However, he tips the balance when guns and knives are introduced into the chaos, and not one of the eight family members calls 911. Even worse, in one scene a family member is about to be stabbed through the heart, while a half dozen other family members stand around watching instead of trying to stop it. These moments take the viewer out of the situation because it is so unrealistic (at least to me) that a loving family would sit idly by and watch another one suffers.
Where The Oath succeeds is in the discussion it is likely to create. This film will likely anger some and others may even walk out. It’s very obvious what point of view each family member has despite the fact that no political parties are mentioned by name. Nearly the entire film takes place inside the house as discussions move from room to room. There is a real lack of production design going on behind the conversation, so much so that if your mind wanders, you may notice that this “home” doesn’t feel very lived in. That’s also when you might notice the blocking starts to feel more like a stage play than a feature film. Yet each time you start to drift, Barinholtz pulls you back into the story, when one of the characters makes a radical decision, or another dramatic fight scene breaks out. Haddish playing against type is one of the more surprising moments in the movie. More often than not, her character is singlehandedly the smartest of the family, despite never picking up her own cell phone and trying to conclude this dangerous situation before it reaches the boiling point.
The Oath becomes so outrageously unrealistic that it invalidates many of the filmmaker’s good points and observations.