I had no idea he had this in him.
Never judge a book by its cover. Most people might all think of Ike Barinholtz as the lovable idiot character in raunchy comedies like Blockers or Neighbors, but then he comes along and makes something like The Oath. People are going to be taking him a lot more serious from now on, I think.
The Oath marks the directorial debut for Barinholtz, who also stars in the movie alongside Tiffany Haddish.
That right there is an accomplishment in itself, because I can’t think of any other actors-turned-directors whose first film had this strong and harsh of a statement. The man has guts is what I’m saying.
That statement is related to politics, as The Oath is a very angry, and yet darkly comedic, reflection on the not so great things the United States government has been up to lately.
The Oath takes place in a fictional reality (but perhaps not all THAT fictional) in which everyone living in the United States is being asked to sign a form that pledges their loyalty to the president.
That president is never mentioned by name in The Oath, but, come on, we all know Barinholtz is calling out Trump here.
Chris (Barinholtz) and Kai (Haddish) have decided they won’t be signing this pledge. It’s a matter of principle, really — they can’t sign something they both adamantly disagree with so strongly. What kind of example would that set for their kids?
Chris’ family doesn’t all feel the same way. His sister, Alice (Carrie Brownstein), has taken a similar stance and his parents, Eleanor (Nora Dunn) and Hank (Chris Ellis) are pretty indifferent on the whole thing, but his brother Pat (Jon Barinholtz) and his girlfriend Abbie (Meredith Hagner)? Yeah, they strongly support the oath, and they aren’t afraid to shy away from that conversation either.
Chris also isn’t afraid to shy away from that conversation, as he spends most of his free time watching the news so he can stay informed on all current events. Put all that together and you have one giant recipe for disaster.
Of course, everyone could just go on their merry way and keep their opinions to themselves, except for the fact that the holidays have rolled around and everyone has invited themselves over to Chris and Kai’s house for Thanksgiving.
Given that the deadline to sign the oath is Black Friday, there’s literally no way that the conversation can be avoided.
But then, later on in the day, something rather unexpected happens. Two private agents who work directly for the president, Peter (John Cho) and Mason (Billy Magnussen), show up at Chris’ front-door and want to talk. They’re aware that he isn’t planning on signing the oath and, well, they aren’t happy about it.
From that point on, things wind up going completely nuts in ways I didn’t see coming at all.
That creates two very different segments, if you will, in The Oath. The first half of the movie primarily focuses on the political satire aspect. Barinholtz is clearly upset with a lot of things and doesn’t hesitate to call them out directly.
A lot of directors have attempted to do something similar post-election, and many of them have failed to do so effectively as they typically overcook it to varying degrees. Barinholtz, however, manages to find a perfectly level of relevancy within The Oath. There might be a few times when it’s a bit uneven, sure, but his look at the world here feels do dead-on and honest that you can’t help but be wrapped up in this world he’s creating.
Part of the reason why this satire works so well is because Barinholtz holds himself accountable, too. It’s impossible to engage in meaningful debate with someone if you aren’t willing to admit your own short-comings, even though that can be a very hard thing to do. Barinholtz owns it, though, as he’s willing to admit that his view on things can be seen as flawed or problematic.
The second half, then, brings those two sides together in a really clever way. This is where the dark comedy aspect comes into play, as you won’t see what happens with Cho and Magnussen’s characters coming.
It delivers a powerful message, though, reminding the audience that modern day politics are poison. A poison that we’re drawn to, even though we know it’s tearing us apart. The first half of The Oath sets up the differences we might have with one another, but the second half comes along to remind us that we aren’t as different as we might think. At the end of the day, we’re all still human.
Barinholtz reaching that level of clarity on his first go-around as a director really astonished me, even if The Oath might be a little shaky around the edges.
He also does a good job starring in the movie, as he’s given some of the funniest lines. Tiffany Haddish is funny too, of course, but I really like her in The Oath for different reasons. We’re used to seeing Haddish as the crazy, inappropriate character with no filter, but this time we get to see her play against type as she’s the one who’s trying to calm Barinholtz down and keep everything under control. There are times when she might have freak-outs, sure, but Haddish really is the anchor in The Oath, and that works out far better than you might expect.
All of the supporting cast in here does great work, too. I want to give a special shoutout to Cho and Magnussen, both of whom completely commit to their roles — especially Magnussen. We saw him play the world’s dumbest man in Game Night, and then he comes along and does something like this. He’s someone you’re going to want to keep your eye on.
There are a lot of people out there who aren’t having the same reaction as I did to The Oath, but I really enjoyed this movie in a way I wasn’t expecting. This isn’t just another angry, watered-down take on why everything is terrible, but The Oath actually has some really interesting, well-thought-out things to say about that take.
Watch the trailer for The Oath here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought about the film!
The Oath' review: I'm impressed, Ike Barinholtz8