There was a time when politics was a topic people seldom discussed. And if it just so happens to be brought up, disagreements could be discussed with civility. However, in today’s climate — where the divide between Americans from both political spectrums seems larger than ever — it is almost impossible to not hear someone’s opinion on an issue followed by a barrage of insults.
“It’s become a bit of a zero-sum game, hasn’t it?” said comedic actor Ike Barinholtz, who has landed roles as a funnyman in Blockers, Suicide Squad and Neighbors 2. “It’s like you’re either [liberal] or [conservative], and that’s it! It’s black and white with no grey.”
Barinholtz doesn’t hold back on the overly emotional and hypocritical ways people interact when it comes to political discussions in his new film, “The Oath.”
The 93-minute dark comedy takes place in a politically divided America — reflective of today’s times. The premise revolves around a controversial White House announcement that asks citizens to sign a loyalty oath to the President; they have until the day after Thanksgiving, i.e. Black Friday, to sign the document. At odds with the policy, liberal-minded news junkie Chris (Ike Barinholtz) and his wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish) try to survive the Thanksgiving holiday without speaking politics as he hosts his family — some of whom hold opposing views.
Credited as the star, writer and director of “The Oath,” Barinholtz felt inspired to make this political satire after the 2016 Election when he got into an argument with his mother and brother at the Thanksgiving that followed.
“The next morning, I said to myself, ‘That’s crazy, we’re all on the same side. We voted for the same person but we’re so angry at each other.’” he recounted. “If that divide is happening with my family, then what is happening at other holiday tables?”
The R-rated film, which marks Barinholtz’s directorial debut, explores how the political dynamic at family tables have changed. In the first act, Chris prepares for his family’s arrival as his level-headed wife plays the voice of reason and reminds him to not mention the loyalty oath around them; Chris makes his liberal views clear to viewers — criticizing the loyalty oath and those who signed it. The second act ensues when his parents (Nora Dunn and Chris Ellis), sister (Carrie Brownstein) and brother (Jon Barinholtz) arrive and the bickering begins.
What I particularly enjoyed from the film was that, while Barinholtz’s character’s political stance is clear in the film, the audience is left to guess that of his family members. However, you can ultimately tell which party some are aligned with by the way they argue.
The loud, angry and foul-mouthed dialogue in the film is reminiscent of a news article’s comment thread on Facebook. Barinholtz does a good job satirizing left- and right-leaning people when their views are challenged: liberals call those they disagree with fascists, racists or homophobe while conservatives call their opposers “unamerican.” The Central Intelligence co-writer believes the spread of fake news and misinformation does not help process the current political climate realistically.
“We can be mad at each other but when it comes down to it, let’s make sure we’re all on the same side against the real threat,” he told The Triangle in a sit-down interview at The Logan Hotel.
That “real threat” is addressed in the third act, when we’re introduced to two government agents (John Cho and Billy Magnussen) searching for “anti-Oathers” who unexpectedly arrive at Chris’s home. Mason, the officer played by Billy Magnussen, becomes responsible for taking the film to a violent turn. And according to Barinholtz, the hothead agent is meant to represent the manifestation of the worst parts of America: fascism and violence.
As the comedy escalates to a darker tone in the third act, the filming style changes. What started with still, wide shots — almost in the style of a theater production — changes to close-up shots and a dark, orange look as our eyes get acclimated to the suspense. This direction works so well that it felt like I was watching one of the Purge movies. However, Barinholtz made sure to include dashes of laugh-out-loud moments within the violent scenes to ease the tension — an experience the actor-director claims we can all relate to as news consumers in the social media world.
“When directing those scenes, I thought about it like when you’re on Twitter,” he said. “One minute you’re laughing at a video of a dog eating its own poop. Then you scroll down and read that they’re separating parents from their children at the border.”
All in all, Barinholtz’s dark, political comedy is a film of its time. You’ll laugh at the ignorance and over-exaggeration presented by the liberal and conservative characters. However, you’ll be — dare I say — shook to notice that this isn’t far from how many behave in today’s political climate.
“The Oath” hits theaters Oct. 19.