Movie Review: "The Oath"
Thanksgiving is approaching and tensions are rising with it. Chris (Ike Barinholtz) and Kai (Tiffany Haddish) are hosting Thanksgiving this year. Chris’ parents will be staying with them in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, and Chris’ brother, sister, and their families will be coming on Thanksgiving day. Bringing up politics over the holidays is always a bad idea. For Chris, this is especially true, as his family have different political views than he does. This year, however, not bringing up politics will be harder than ever.
The United States government has a new strategy to get support from the American people. They are offering tax incentives to anyone willing to sign a loyalty oath. Chris sees this as a violation of basic American rights. Signing it means that you cannot speak poorly of the United States government, and that you need to be loyal to the government regardless of its actions. Chris is very opinionated, has a temper, and gets very heated when it comes to politics. He is trying to remain calm for Thanksgiving, but that all goes out the window when he learns that some of his family members support the outrageous oath.
The Pros & Cons
The Premise (+5pts)
The Ending (-3pts)
Pro: Kai (+4pts)
Chris was the reason for most of the tension in this movie, and Kai was the one married to him. I was not expecting much from this character, but I ended up liking this character a lot. She did not agree so strongly with Chris’ views, but she was supportive of him anyway. She was on his side, but she had her limits. Tiffany Haddish did a great job with her character’s comedic moments, as you would expect her to, but she also did a really great job of playing this character in a realistic and relatable way.
You will like this character because Tiffany Haddish was funny in the role, but you will like the character for more than that. She clearly loved her husband and wanted to support him, but she held her ground when he went too far. In a movie filled with characters of conflicting views, Kai was the moral center. Tiffany Haddish delivered the comedy as effectively as you would expect her to, and she delivered the character’s dramatic moments in a way that will get you invested in the plot, believing in the premise, and caring about the main characters’ marriage. Kai was an important character to this story, and Tiffany Haddish made it easy to lije her.
Con: Chris (-4pts)
I understand that the premise of this movie needed a main character that had passionate political views. However, Chris seemed unrealistically addicted to politics. He was also extremely hostile toward anyone who disagreed with him. I understand that this character was an exaggerated version of how many people on both the right and the left are, but it made this character very unlikable.
The whole point of this movie was to portray political debate over the holidays in a comedic way. It needed Chris and his family members to be passionate about politics, but you also need to like and be able to relate to the main character. Unfortunately, it was hard to do so with this character. The guy was a jerk to almost everyone in this movie, which made it really hard to root for him. The filmmakers had a good idea here, but they failed at making a main character that I could get behind.
Pro: Peter (+2pts)
Peter—played by John Cho—was one of the officers whose job was to enforce the oath, and put pressure on those who are speaking out against the government. Unfortunately for Chris, his behavior has drawn officers to his house. I really do not want to give anything away regarding this character, but I thought his role in the movie was really funny. The character played a pretty minor role, but he was surprisingly entertaining and was definitely worth mentioning in this review. He was a really effective comedic character that I wish got a lot more screen time than he did.
Con: Mason (-4pts)
There were two officers that came to Chris’ house. The first—Peter—was a comedic character that I liked a lot, but got little focus. The second—Mason (Billy Magnussen)—was an antagonistic character that did not work for me. The character felt too one-dimensional and over-the-top, but he also distracted from the movie’s premise. The story ended up turning into a story about dealing with a bully like Mason, rather than staying focused on the political tension between family members over the holidays. I liked this premise and was looking forward to how the filmmakers would bring it to the screen comedically, but once Mason was introduced, the story went in a less interesting and less entertaining direction.
Pro: The Premise (+5pts)
Everyone can relate to the premise of this movie on some level. It was your typical holiday movie, with one character being stressed out over hosting his family for Thanksgiving, but it had the added issue of political tension. I am sure you have heard it many times before, but it is never a good idea to talk about politics with family, especially when some of your family members are very opinionated and have different political views than you do. This movie was all about why that is such a bad idea.
This premise worked because everyone can relate to it to some degree. These characters were definitely exaggerated, but the premise still worked, as it provided some great, comedic, cringeworthy moments. When the filmmakers kept the story focused on this premise, the movie actually worked pretty well. Unfortunately, the filmmakers seemed to lose sight of the premise when Mason was introduced, but the film’s premise still made for some pretty funny moments throughout the movie.
Con: The Ending (-3pts)
The ending of this movie gave me the impression that the filmmakers had a premise, but did not really have an idea where to take the story. I actually just watched the episode of The Office where Michael Scott said “Sometimes I'll start a sentence and I don't even know where it's going. I just hope I find it along the way.” That is what this movie felt like. Unfortunately, the filmmakers never “found it” along the way.
The filmmakers setup the premise, got distracted from that premise when they introduced Mason, then the story sort of just fizzled out. It was a pretty unsatisfying and anti-climactic conclusion. I also did not think that the filmmakers had earned the resolution that they delivered, as this specific ending felt pretty unjustified. It was like the filmmakers were telling a story, went on a tangent for awhile, then decided the story had been going on for awhile so just sort of ended it randomly and abruptly, and it just did not work for me.
Grade: C+ (75pts)
Everyone can relate to this premise on some level. Seeing family over the holidays can be stressful for some, and that is especially true when discussing politics. Tensions tend to rise when discussing politics with family over the holidays, and that was exactly what this movie was about. I was looking forward to seeing how the filmmakers would use that premise comedically, but I thought they mostly dropped the ball with it.
When the movie was focused on the premise, it was pretty funny. However, the introduction of Mason resulted in the story going in a less interesting and less entertaining direction—-one that was about overcoming a generic bully. Kai was the moral and emotional center of this movie, and she was an effective one, while also being the comedic presence that you would expect Tiffany Haddish to be. Chris, on the other hand, was an unlikable and exaggerated jerk that made it hard to root for him—the main character of this story. The Oath had all the makings of a relevant and entertaining comedy about discussing politics with family over the holidays. Unfortunately, the filmmakers struggled to bring that idea to the screen and delivered a movie with weaknesses that seemed to cancel out its strengths.