The Oath is a fictional black comedy about American citizens given the supposedly option of signing a loyalty oath to the President. As far as black comedies go, they do not often generate many laughs, and neither does this one. THE OATH can be best considered a comic look at America and something that could but hopefully never happen. Citizens are required to sign before the next Thanksgiving is up. The oath is hopefully to isolate terrorists in America. The incentive given to those who sign is a huge tax cut, but it seems that those opposing are being persecuted.
This controversial White House policy turns family member against family member when Chris (Ike Barinholtz), a high-strung progressive news junkie, and his more level headed wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish) learn bout it. Their reaction is disbelief, followed by idealistic refusal. But as the Thanksgiving deadline to sign approaches, the combination of sparring relatives, and the unexpected arrival of two government agents sends an already tense family gathering completely off the rails. Chris mentions that this is not the America he knows or the one he wants to grow up with.
Director Barinholtz keeps the film’s budget in check. Instead of showing an actual riot with cars and buildings set on fire, the above is seen on the television screen. Most of the action takes place at the dining table with a few exteriors.
The film’s best joke also happens on the television when it is announced (heard) that actor Seth Rogen has disappeared because he was opposed to the oath.
For a man so geared on Thanksgiving, the film allows the man (Chris) to throw away etiquette and allow him to use his cell phone. This incident is the catalyst for the big break up at the Thanksgiving dinner. This is a scene well done with tempers flaring and foul language running loose.
Performances-wise, every actor seems to be overdoing their parts. All this looks normal for the fact that the events unfolding are so over the top.
The film reaches great intensity once the CPU (Citizens Protection Unit) agents invade Chris’s home without a warrant. Someone in the dinner party had complained that Chris is advising others not to sign the oath, and hence the agents’s sudden intrusion. Agent Mason (Billy Magnussen) taunts Chris to the point that he pushes him resulting in him taking out his gun, and punches Chris. As a result Chris’s dad hits Agent Peter (John Cho) with the chimney stoker knocking him out cold. Mason is tasered and is tied up. Mason is crazy and continue to threaten Chris while Agent Peter appears the rational one. Director Marinholtz surprisingly keeps the audience at the edge of their seats during all the action combined with verbal shouting. The children of the family are never seen during all the commotion, having being conveniently locked in another room or whisked off to another location.
One troubling flaw are the mixed messages sent by Barinholtz’s film. Should one stand up for ones belief despite opposition from family or should one put family first and personal principles second? The message is blurred more by the words uttered by Chris’s dad: “One has to do whatever it takes to keep ones family safe.”
When one wonders how all the mayhem and violence will end, Barinholtz gears his film towards an unexpected plot twist. THE OATH ends up disappointing audiences’ expectations despite some solid compelling set-up drama.