The Oath – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

As if the holidays weren’t stressful enough with extra expenses, travel arrangements, snarled traffic, and sibling rivalry, try adding diverse political views into the Thanksgiving mix. That’s what happens in The Oath, a dark action comedy written and directed by Ike Barinholtz (Suicide Squad and The Mindy Project), who also stars in the film.

The Oath stars Ike Barinholtz, who also wrote and directed the film. Photo copyright 2018 Roadside Attractions.

Barinholtz portrays Chris, a liberal white man happily married to his equally liberal black wife, Kai, (Tiffany Haddish). They live with their two children in a beautiful suburban neighborhood. They watch in disbelief as a White House spokeswoman announces on television that all U.S. citizens are requested to sign a Patriot’s Oath (a loyalty waiver to the President). Americans have nearly a year – until the day after Thanksgiving – to sign the oath. Although not required by law, the Government offers tax benefits and other perks for signing…and perhaps a visit from the Citizens Protection Unit (CPU) for those who refuse to sign.

Nationwide Frenzy

Chris, a social media addict, observes the nationwide frenzy of increasing violence, strange disappearances of non-signers (including Seth Rogen), and home invasions by the CPU as Thanksgiving Day approaches. His conservative family is coming to their house for the holiday and his parents (Nora Dunn and Chris Ellis) have issued a no-political discussions rule, which Chris immediately discards upon their arrival. His ultra-conservative brother (real-life brother Jon Barinholtz) and his girlfriend (Meredith Hagner) wage an ongoing verbal battle with the hosting family. His sister (Carrie Brownstein) and her ailing husband (Jay Duplass) offer a more neutral stance.

Just when it seems like things can’t get worse, two officers from the CPU (Billy Magnussen and John Cho) arrive at the house to question Chris about not signing the oath. Utilizing the traditional good cop/bad cop roles, the CPU officers escalate an already tense environment. Tension leads to panic, and panic leads to violence. Soon the scene is out of control. Who reported Chris? Where will the violence lead?

Dark Political Comedy

Although this may not sound like the basis for a comedy, this dark film is comical throughout. These ordinary people are thrust into an extraordinary circumstance that isn’t likely to have a happy ending. The actors play for laughs, but there’s also a darker subtext about angry, close-minded extremists taking on the traits they despise in the other. This is Barinholtz’s directorial debut, and while the humor occasionally misses the mark, the timely cautionary tale might prompt more peaceful political discussions around Thanksgiving dinner tables this year.

The Oath

  • Reflecting the political divisiveness going on in the country, a family’s Thanksgiving celebration turns violent when opposing views derail the holiday.
  • Stars: Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish, John Cho, Billy Magnussen, Jon Barinholtz, Nora Dunn, Chris Ellis, Carrie Brownstein, Jay Duplass, Max Greenfield
  • Writer-Director: Ike Barinholtz
  • Genre: Romantic Action Comedy
  • Run Time: 93 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout and some drug use)
  • Click here to watch a trailer for The Oath.

Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.

The Death of Stalin – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Based on the graphic novel The Death of Stalin by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, this satiric film looks at the power-grabbing aftermath following the unexpected death of brutal Russian dictator, Joseph Stalin.

The Death of Stalin. Copyright 2018. IFC Films.

Set in Moscow in 1953, Stalin’s most trusted political comrades, the sadistic Beria (Simon Russell Beale), conniving Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), and bumbling Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), immediately begin jockeying for positions in the new regime. Attempting to win back favor among the populace who had previously been impoverished, incarcerated or had beloved family members executed, the men go to outrageous lengths to give the appearance of supporting each other and their country, while secretly plotting in the shadows.

Devious Power Plays

Although each man schemes to make a smooth transition that places him in the role of the newly appointed leader, unexpected complications arise every step of the way. Even getting a confirmation of Stalin’s death is difficult, because every competent doctor has been executed or imprisoned, leaving only the very young, very old, and otherwise incompetent to administer care to the people.

Other members of Stalin’s Council of Ministers have their own power plays, and Stalin’s two adult children, Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough) and Vasily (Rupert Friend) show up for the funeral and complicate matters. Svetlana’s main concern is her own safety now that her father is no longer alive, and Vasily (depicted as an alcoholic narcissist) is focused almost exclusively on the nonsensical speech he plans to deliver at the funeral.

Dark Comedy

Although the oppressive times and grave injustices inflicted on the people make a tragic backdrop, the darkly comical story of the political insiders satirizes their ineptitude and lack of vision caused by overriding selfish interests. The humor comes in different forms, from physical comedy to one-liners to over-the-top characterizations, and presents the story in a surprising way.

Buscemi (who like most of the other actors makes no attempt to adopt a Russian accent) depicts one of the few likable characters, despite his own long list of crimes and misdeeds against his people. Amid the panic, desperation, chaos, and machinations following Stalin’s sudden demise, Buscemi’s mesmerizing portrayal of Khrushchev is the one to watch. In noteworthy supporting roles, look for Michael Palin as a weak-willed comrade and Jason Isaacs as a ferocious general. For those who enjoy historical rewrites and the dark comedy of political satire, this film does an excellent job of both.

The Death of Stalin

  • Following the sudden death of Joseph Stalin, his Council of Ministers goes into a panic scurrying to secure their individual futures.
  • Stars: Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Palin, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Olga Kurylenko, Rupert Friend, Paddy Considine
  • Director: Armando Iannucci
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Run Time: 97 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout, violence, and some sexual references)
  • Additional Information: Watch a trailer for this film.