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‘The Oath’ (review)

Produced by Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen,
Raymond Mansfield,
Sean McKittrick,
Andrew C. Robinson,

Written and Directed by Ike Barinholtz
Starring Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish,
Nora Dunn, Chris Ellis, Jon Barinholtz,
Meredith Hagner, Carrie Brownstein,
Billy Magnussen, John Cho

 

It’s strange that in November we have one of our most divisive days as well as a holiday that champions togetherness.

After weeks of mudslinging, debate, and partisanship, we choose the leader that aligns with our values on Election Day.

A few weeks later, many of us defend that choice around the Thanksgiving table surrounded by friends and family who may not feel the same way. As the arguments have become more polarized, the holiday table has turned into a battlefield.

But what if there were actual stakes to those heated disagreements?

Ike Barinholtz came up with the idea of The Oath when he realized that his addiction to breaking news and every little thing that was being reported out of Washington was causing him to be angry and distracted from his day-to-day world.

That same sense of constant dread and anxiety plagues all of the interactions with main character Chris (Barinholtz). He finds that it is impossible for him to unplug from divisive political arguments even on Thanksgiving. This is due to round-the-clock coverage of a loyalty oath the President has asked citizens to sign, that he opposes more vehemently than the rest of his family. As Chris refuses to set politics aside for the holidays, two government agents (John Cho and Billy Magnussen) arrive to surprising and violent results.

Taking a turn in the level-headed passenger seat, Tiffany Haddish plays Chris’ wife, Kai. She has many of the same liberal ideas, but sees a bigger picture that requires breaks from the everyday horror of the political world. Her jokes are a breath of fresh air, but it is a shame she was not allowed to have more control in her scenes. Kai is more of a placating force for Chris, and you can see that she is holding back to let him lead. It’s a bit frustrating, as there are glimpses here and there of her greater capacity.

This isn’t to say that the other performances are sub-par. As the right-wing Infowars loving Abbie, Meredith Hagner is like a suburban sweater vest version of Tomi Lahren. She is dating Chris’ brother Pat (played by Barinholtz’s actual brother, Jon) who is also a conservative seat at the holiday table. The dynamic between Abbie and Chris (really, Chris and everyone) never escapes an uncomfortable and grating territory. The tension is ramped up from the start of the movie and never finds a moment to break. Rather than being suspenseful, it ends up just as exhausting and painful as an actual meal with your hyper-partisan relatives.

Perhaps that is the greatest problem with the movie; it offers nothing that you would need from this kind of film. It is too uncomfortably close to real life to offer any kind of entertaining escapism, and too madcap to learn something from.

The Oath is instead stuck in a middle ground that leads to a wholly unsatisfactory ending that takes the easy way out of an increasingly complicated situation. While that may not be the worst way to escape the holidays, it does not make for a great movie.

 

 

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