Film Review: THE OATH (USA 2018) ***

The Oath Poster

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.



birth of the dragonSet against the backdrop of 1960s San Francisco, BIRTH OF THE DRAGON is a modern take on the classic movies that Bruce Lee was known for. It takes its inspiration from the epic and still controversial showdown between an up-and-coming Bruce Lee and kung fu master Wong Jack Man – a battle that gave birth to a legend.

Director: George Nolfi
Writers: Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson
Stars: Billy Magnussen, Yu Xia, Philip Ng

Review by Gilbert Seah
Premiering last year at the Toronto International Film Festival at a running time of 103 minutes, this shorter version is a re-cut version, according to the film publicist that now runs a 10-minute shorter version. I had not seen the original version but a colleague of mine at the press screening had seen both, remarking that the re-cut version is an improved one. Which is not saying much – since BIRTH OF THE DRAGON is still not a very good movie.

The end credits say that the film was based on a Bruce Lee article: ‘Bruce Lee’s Toughest Fight’. In other words, the film was inspired by true events. The setting is 1964 in San Francisco, where a real fight took place between Bruce Lee, 9 years before his fame and making of his first movie and a monk named Wong Jack Man. The question then is who won the fight. Since this film is about Bruce Lee, and not the monk, one assumes that Lee won the fight, or why make a movie if he lost the fight. But the script has more up its sleeve.

The film opens with a monk (Xia Yu) fighting in a province of China, which the title claims is the place of birth of Kung- Fu martial arts. The monk is said to travel to America to learn how Kung Fu has been taught there. It has been taught a great deal by Bruce Lee (Philip Ng), then and shown to be a conceited and proud instructor, though his intentions are respectable. The two fight in a competition with a plot that is supped to cause a girl to be enslaved unless there is a clear winner. So, one of Lee’s pupils, a hot-headed Mack (Billy Magnussen, BRIDGE OF SPIES, INTO THE WOODS and the recent INGRID GOES WEST) decide to save her. The two fighters combine their efforts to save the girl, but unfortunately they are unable to save the movie.

The film is aimed strictly for Bruce Lee or Kung Fu fans. Main actor Ng who plays Lee suits the part, with a chased body much like Lee. Ng’s mannerisms (body stances, sounds) down to his face twitching resembles Lee too.

According to my colleague who had seen the original film, the original was centred on the white man, Mack, who is given a less impotent role after the film’s major re-cut. This makes more sense in that no one be satisfied paying good money to see a Bruce Lee story than end up with a film with a white man story. The white man plot is now reduced to a subplot with him in a minor supporting role ending up in hospital, though Mack does get his (Chinese) girl.

BIRTH OF THE DRAGON aims high in revealing the fact that Bruce Lee changed his style of fighting and became the man he did, as a result of the fight – thus he film title BIRTH OF A DRAGON. This might be true but the film is still quite the mediocre film.


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