The Oath

Written and directed by Ike Barinholtz, The Oath follows Chris (Barinholtz) and Kai (Tiffany Haddish) as they prepare for the arrival of his family for the Thanksgiving holiday – with the movie, which transpires against the backdrop of a controversial “oath” of loyalty citizens are being asked to sign, detailing the arguments and, eventually, violence that eventually ensue. Barinholtz, making his directorial debut here, has concocted a decidedly erratic drama that fares best in its fairly engrossing and engaging opening stretch, as the filmmaker does an effective job of establishing the movie’s raft of oddball characters and placing them within a pressure-cooker of a scenario – with the compelling atmosphere heightened by Barinholtz and Haddish’s strong work as the picture’s agreeable leads (and it doesn’t hurt, either, that the movie boasts a top-notch supporting cast that includes Nora Dunn, John Cho, Carrie Brownstein, and Billy Magnussen.) It’s disappointing to note, then, that The Oath takes a fairly sharp downward turn as it progresses into its comparatively underwhelming second half, as this portion of the proceedings, triggered by an unexpected arrival, suffers from a distinctly (and lamentably) broad and over-the-top feel that grows more and more grating as time progresses – with the newfound emphasis on overblown histrionics paving the way for a somewhat disappointing and by-the-numbers final third. The end result is an erratic endeavor that squanders a solid premise and solid roster of performers, which is too bad, certainly, given that Barinholtz certainly does hold a fair degree of promise as both a screenwriter and a filmmaker.

**1/2 out of ****

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