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Like standing in the eye of a hurricane, assessing every
piece of debris flashing past your face, it often a fool’s errand to try and
critique a crisis as it’s unfolding. The hurricane in question is one President
Donald J. Trump, and with his feature directorial debut, Ike Barinholtz
attempts to throw as much biting political comedic material at the critically
sensitive leader. While his name is never mentioned in The Oath, it’s clear that the titular oath is one that is referring
to a possible future under Trump’s leadership – one where the citizens of
America are required to sign a ‘Patriot’s Oath’, an agreement that states that
the citizen is loyal to the President and that they will out anyone who
criticises him. It’s an idea that may have appeared illogical years ago, but in
the midst of Trump’s America where he takes offense to things that he isn’t
even mentioned in, it now seems downright possible.
The people of America are given ten months to sign the
agreement, with the due date falling on Black Friday – the day after
Thanksgiving. Barinholtz wastes no time getting to the set-up, opening up with
husband and wife duo Chris (Ike Barinholtz) and Kai (Tiffany Haddish) sitting
on their bed watching the news of ‘The Patriot’s Oath’ being announced, and then
quickly flashing forward ten months to Thanksgiving. Chris and Kai have agreed
to host the family dinner, with Chris’ far right leaning brother, Pat (Ike’s
actual brother Jon Barinholtz), and his left leaning sister Alice (Carrie
Brownstein), coming, alongside parents Hank (Chris Ellis) and Eleanor (Nora
Dunn). However, they’re not alone as Pat has brought his Tomi Lahren adjacent
girlfriend Abbie (Meredith Hagner) along, and Alice has brought her partner
Clark (Jay Duplass) and kids for the ride.
The set-up takes the basic concept of political divide
within families, and applies it to a time where families are supposed to unite
and support each other, and shakes it up vigorously. Through the sheen of the
militant right, fake news, unbending left leaners, and overwhelming political
turmoil, The Oath shines as a searing
indictment of politics as a whole around the world. While it’s easy to see The Oath as a pure piece of
anti-Trump-ism, it is delivered with enough negatives for either side of
politics that it manages to straddle a difficult middle line of being mildly partisan.
To be clear, Chris is the ‘lead’ of the film, and we see the
events unfurl from his perspective, but Barinholtz knows to not make him a
completely infallible character, weighing him down with an overeager desire to
engage with politics and remain ‘woke’ at all times. It’s here where MVP
Tiffany Haddish really shines as Kai, the anchor to keep Chris grounded as much
as possible. As the aggression and violence amplifies, with Chris willing to
burn everything down over a difference of opinion, Kai reminds him that ‘hey,
yeah, this whole oath thing is a problem, but we have a kid to raise’. Haddish
has already proven to be a genuine, exciting talent, with her performance in Girls Trip being one for the ages. Here,
as Kai, she delivers a truly heartfelt performance that marries her sublime
comedic talents with genuine empathy. If there’s one reason to watch The Oath, it’s for Tiffany Haddish
Haddish is not alone as a force to be reckoned with, with
Billy Magnussen appearing halfway through the film as a government officer
coming to question Chris’ decision to not sign the oath. He’s joined by the
always reliable John Cho, who doesn’t exactly manage to equal Magnussen’s
electric performance. With Game Night,
Ingrid Goes West, and The Oath, Magnussen affirms he is a
genuine talent capable of harnessing a rare comedic energy that will have you
crying with laughter. At once, Magnussen’s Mason is both dryly comedic, and
then downright terrifying, often in the same breath.
While Barinholtz’s direction leaves a little to be desired
as he struggles with pacing sometimes (not to mention the fact that the whole
film is completely overlit), it’s his script that gives everyone the right
material to work with. The back and forth between Chris and Pat’s girlfriend
Abbie is genuinely hilarious, with Meredith Hagner clearly relishing being able
to play the despicable and outwardly offensive Abbie. The hyper-personal vibe
that comes from the interactions between Chris and Pat has me wondering whether
Barinholtz is drawing from personal experience, or if the bond between real
life brothers is just that strong that they can play it up for a film.
The mileage for your enjoyment of this kind of material relies
on your tolerance for political comedy. This is not as biting as Veep, but nor is it trying to be. It’s
clear that Barinholtz is working through some contentious ideas with this
material – ones that are tested on twitter day in/day out – and, fortunately,
the writing is strong enough to stand the test of time. This isn’t a film that’s
going to age quickly, given the basic theme of political divide is an eternally
salient one, and as Barinholtz cheekily suggests at the conclusion, it is
something that is American as apple pie.
I enjoyed The Oath
immensely. It scratched that political comedy itch perfectly, and did so with
great performances from some of the best rising talent in Hollywood today.
Director: Ike Barinholtz Cast: Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish, Billy Magnussen Writer: Ike Barinholtz
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