The Oath *1/2

A politically divided family bickering over Thanksgiving could work as a timely holiday comedy, but not like this.   

Is it worth $10? No 

"The Oath" is a vile, aggressive film. It's about people you would never want to spend time with, and those who suffer in their company. As a satire, it misses the mark and isn't funny. As a dark comedy, it goes completely off the rails in the third act. It wants to be viewed as venting the frustrations of politically polarized Americans in 2018, but in reality it just stokes the fire.

At the center of the story is producer/writer/director/actor Ike Barinholtz's Chris, who's a liberal in all the stereotypical ways a person can be a liberal. He's married to Kai (Tiffany Haddish), a notably more levelheaded African-American and proud mother to their daughter Hardy (Priah Ferguson). It's the week of Thanksgiving, and his family is coming to their house: Chris' mother (Nora Dunn) and father (Chris Ellis), Chris' liberal sister Alice (Carrie Brownstein) and her sickly husband Clark (Jay Duplass), and Chris' conservative brother Pat (Jon Barinholtz), who's bringing his even more conservative girlfriend Abbie (Meredith Hagner).

Aside from varying political views, adding tension is the (unnamed) president of the United States, who issued a "Loyalty Oath" that he expects all Americans to sign. It's a pledge, really, to one's country, though Chris views it as a violation of his rights and refuses to sign. When news reports suggest people are getting arrested and/or are disappearing for not signing the pledge by the Black Friday deadline, Chris' anti-pledge stance grows firmer, even as he learns more people around him have signed the pledge than he suspected.

The premise is clever, and ripe with possibilities, yet the whole thing lands with a thud. In movies we generally root for the characters who take action to improve themselves, save the day, etc. In "The Oath" the characters taking action are odious, each so shut off to the other side of the political aisle that he/she is incapable of acknowledging, let alone understanding, the others' point of view. So we're left with only the reasonable peacemakers to root for, but they’re not engaging characters because they only react to what happens – they don’t initiate. When you can only like the bystanders, that’s a problem.

There's more that's wrong with it. Often, details teased in the beginning of a film pay off in a more significant way later on, but here the minutiae is all for naught. There’s little reason, let alone rational thought, behind most of the characters’ actions. People are so insistently stubborn, insensitive and disrespectful that you end up disliking everyone.

Then there's the ending. What was a satire becomes a kidnap/home invasion thriller, which couldn't feel more wrong. It's supposed to be a dystopian vision of "what could happen" in the future if we stay on our current track, but it plays angry, and forced, for utmost dramatic effect. The introduction of two government agents (John Cho and Billy Magnussen) in the last act completely derails the already fledgling premise, and the film goes quickly downhill from there.

A good satire that appeals to all Americans could be made about our current sociopolitical state, and if/when it is hopefully it’ll help bridge the partisan divide. “The Oath,” unfortunately, is not that movie.  

Did you know?
Haddish, in addition to this and “Night School,” also stars in Tyler Perry’s “Nobody’s Fool,” in theaters November 2nd.

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