Monday, October 15, 2018

Ike Barinholtz's THE OATH explores our divisive USA like nothing we've yet seen

What a blessing -- if a rather nasty one -- is thrust upon us by writer/director/star Ike Barinholtz, who seems determined to hold up in front of us an almost too-current picture of what's left of middle-class society today: as fractured and divisive as anything TrustMovies has seen so far in his 77-year lifetime. After the critics' screening he attended down here in South Florida a few weeks back, folk were standing around in little groups, animatedly discussing the pros and cons of what they'd just viewed.

In THE OATH, Mr. Barinholtz (shown above, right, with his co-star Tiffany Haddish, who plays his wife) provides his smartest move by making his character, Chris, quite the knee-jerk liberal, with the accent thoroughly on the jerk. Oh, yes, his progressive heart and mind are firmly on the side of the 99 per cent against the reigning one per cent, but his attitude and actions are such that he comes off like a number-one asshole kept barely in check by his more tolerant and understanding wife.

The movie's plot is set maybe next year, when the President of the USA declares that all citizens should sign an oath, declaring their "loyalty" to their country. Yes, this is not at all a difficult turn of events for any sentient person to imagine, and when the deadline for signing is set as the day after Thanksgiving, this brings a whole new meaning to "Black Friday." Chris' family, it turns out, is one of those thoroughly divided into "red" and "blue," thus setting us up for a very tricky Thanksgiving meal.

There is humor and satire aplenty here, with the two leads doing a bang-up job in their respective roles. Barinholtz takes a brave stance in making Chris so simultaneously spot-on yet unappealing, while it is great to see Ms Haddish drop her usual snark to play -- and very well -- a genuinely conflicted, caring wife. Supporting roles are smartly cast, including the filmmaker's own brother, Jon Barinholtz, playing Chris' ultra-right-wing bro, Pat (shown above, right, with Meredith Hagner, who plays his like-minded girlfriend, Abbie).

A little over halfway along, the movie takes quite a turn, as representatives from the government's new "oversight" agency arrive at the home and begin to quietly (and then not-so) interrogate husband and wife. As beautifully played in good cop/bad cop fashion by John Cho and Billy Magnussen (shown above, right and left, respectively), the pair makes for a very interesting antagonist. At this point, The Oath takes on aspects of the home invasion thriller, while never letting go of its humor or satirical bite.

During our post-movie lobby chat after the critic's screening, one woman said she found the film brilliant until its final few minutes, during which, for her, it all fell apart. The ending will probably prove as divisive as our current red/blue split. For me that finale works wonderfully well, providing a much-needed "if-only" respite from the horrors at hand. How well Barinholtz uses those old American clichés of milk and apple pie, and how nice to see our family finally sit down to a well-earned dessert.

Perhaps, when the Blu-ray and DVD are released to home video, we'll get to see an alternate ending (if not several). I'm sure Mr. Barinholtz had a few in mind here. Till then, content yourself with one of the most riveting, funny, and timely films in a long, long while.

From Roadside Attractions and running a swift 93 minutes, The Oath opens here in South Florida and elsewhere this Friday, October 19. In the Miami area, look for it at the AMC Aventura 24, Regal South Beach 18, and AMC Sunset Place 24; in Broward County at the Cinemark Paradise 24 and Regal Cypress Creek ; and in Palm Beach County at the Regal Shadowood 16 and Cobb's Downtown at the Mall Gardens Palm 16. Wherever you live around this divisive USA, to find a theater near you, click here -- and then click GET TICKETS on the task bar atop your screen.

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