About The Production
The tradition of combining comedy and barbed social commentary that began in
days with films by the likes of Charlie Chaplin and the Marx Brothers is seeing
a resurgence in today's climate
of social and political upheaval. A handful of acclaimed films have recently
proved that laughs, both subtle
and broad, can sometimes be the most effective way to illuminate the absurdities
and hypocrisies of 21stcentury
That trend continues with the biting and original black comedy The Oath, about a
to survive a holiday get-together in an ideologically divided America.
Ike Barinholtz, the film's writer, director and star, first dreamed up the idea
in November of 2016, a
little over two weeks after the election of the nation's 45th Commander in
Chief. "Right after Trump won, I
had Thanksgiving at my house," says Barinholtz. "And after dinner, my family and
I got into an argument
about the election. The strange thing was that we were all pretty much aligned
politically. So I thought if we're
getting this angry at each other, I can only imagine what's happening to other
people around the country."
Barinholtz felt that Thanksgiving was the perfect time of year to set his
cautionary tale because of the
familial stress that often accompanies the occasion. "More than any other
holiday, Thanksgiving has a
combustible quality," he explains. "When you get a lot of relatives from
different parts of the country all
coming together to share a meal and talk, it's only natural that someone will
mention politics. So I asked
myself, what's the worst thing that could possibly happen if you talked about
politics around the
Thanksgiving table with your family?"
The answer he came up with was as dark as it was funny. "I decided that almost
murdering a man in
your home would be pretty bad."
Another concept that loomed large for Barinholtz was the issue of loyalty. "I've
interested in the Hollywood blacklist and the McCarthy hearings," he says. "The
idea of demanding blind
loyalty from citizens is something that I find strange and terrifying, and I
started seeing shades of it in Trump.
So before long, these different threads merged in my head and I wrote The Oath
While working on the screenplay, Barinholtz continually questioned the
plausibility of his outrageous
scenario, but as a stream of unprecedented political events unfolded, he quickly
realized it wasn't as farfetched
as it initially seemed. "As I was writing, I kept thinking, is this possible?
Could things ever get as crazy
in our country as they are in the script? And then I'd turn on the TV news and
be like, yep! We're good!"
This issue of life imitating art strikes the filmmaker as a mixed blessing of
sorts. "What's happening
in our culture is syncing up very nicely with the story of The Oath, which is
good for the movie, but bad for
Close to Home
The role that Barinholtz wrote for himself is probably closer to his real-life
interests and worldview
than any he's played before. "My character Chris is basically a more annoying
version of me," he admits. "I'm
obviously interested in politics, and I've been extremely disturbed by what I've
seen happening in our country
over the last year. And like Chris, I'm always checking up on the news, whether
it's on Twitter, television, or
in the New York Times."
Barinholtz describes Chris as a man whose obsession with the 24-hour news cycle
has begun to
seriously affect who he is and how he acts around his wife, co-workers, and
extended family. "He's basically
like a giant cup of gasoline, and Thanksgiving dinner is a match that's about to
go out. So he just dumps
himself on it and blows the whole thing up! He's definitely a character who's
close to home for me, though I
wish he wasn't."
Barinholtz found the perfect producers and financiers when he sent this script
to QC Entertainment
partners Sean McKittrick and Ray Mansfield, who in the last year have been
behind two of the most
distinctive, socially relevant and talked-about films: Get Out and
"Ike and Jordan Peele are very good friends," explains McKittrick, "so Jordan
recommended that Ike
send it to us."
McKittrick was instantly impressed by the script's timeliness and originality,
as well as the way it
employed genre film elements to capture America's post-election meltdown. "Ike
and his original screenplay
are the type of bold storyteller and bold storytelling we passionately champion
at QC," explains the producer.
"I'd never seen this movie before. It tackles the ideological divide that the
current administration is pushing
on the country, which has driven all sides of the political aisle crazy."
Mansfield was equally excited by the thought of bringing The Oath to movie
screens. "I was a big
fan of Ike already, but when I read this script I discovered another side of his
personality," he says. "He's
played characters that are somewhat broad in the past, and this film has that as
well, but it was also such a
nuanced and scathing satire. I think he's really hit on something special here."
Tapping the Zeitgeist
Emboldened by the script's extreme topicality, the decision was made to finance
production on the project immediately. "Because of the political discourse
currently going on in the country,
it was clear that people needed to see this movie right now," explains
McKittrick. "So it was probably the
quickest turnaround of any film I've been involved with."
Mansfield agrees. "The Oath, like Get Out and BlacKkKlansman, is the type of
movie that needs to be in
front of an audience as soon as humanly possible. Ike's screenplay tapped into
the zeitgeist. It has that
something special we look for in our films, that urgency. So Ike started
pre-production on The Oath the day he
wrapped work on the final season of 'The Mindy Project."
According to Mansfield, one other consideration also necessitated the unusually
"We wanted The Oath to come out before the midterm elections," he explains.
"That date was always driving
us, and thankfully we were able to meet it with the help of Topic Studios and
Roadside Attractions, which
we're so grateful for."
The Oath successfully blends current events with laugh-out-loud comedy and
The result is a film that's tricky to define but impossible to forget. "I don't
precisely know how to categorize
The Oath," McKittrick says, "which is one of the reasons why I love it so much.
This is a movie that defies
classification and genre."
The film's thriller elements are particularly intriguing to Mansfield. "The Oath
gets quite intense at
times, and we didn't want to shy away from that by putting in too many jokes
that might undercut those
important scenes," he says. "Instead, we let the audience experience those
moments and feel something they
weren't expecting, which took some finesse."
According to the producer, some gags that were shot for the film's powerful
third act were removed
during the editing process to maintain that section's manic intensity. "We
really love the movie's competing
tones, because the audience can never fully predict what the next scene is going
to bring," he explains. "If you
think you know where The Oath is headed, these tonal shifts are going to keep
you guessing and engaged."
Although The Oath pulls no punches in tackling the entrenched political
tribalism that's plaguing
the country, Barinholtz, McKittrick and Mansfield were adamant that no political
viewpoint should escape
unscathed. "We felt it was important to show that we're all going crazy," says
McKittrick. "It's not just the
liberals, or just the conservatives. What's going on is driving everyone nuts,
and we made sure the film
reflected that. The goal wasn't to choose a political side."
Keeping The Oath as unbiased as possible was a top concern, says Mansfield. "We
didn't want it to
come across as a progressive screed. Whoever sees this film will find their own
somewhere in it. That was crucial to us and to Ike. From the very beginning he
wanted us to tell him if we
thought the script was leaning one way or the other."
Well known for his passionately opinionated Twitter feed, Barinholtz takes
particular delight in
spoofing his own social media presence throughout much of The Oath. "My
character Chris is the most
liberal in the film, and he's also the biggest asshole. He's totally
insufferable, and he starts the fight that
actually ruins Thanksgiving dinner. I mean, he screams at his wife and tells his
parents to fuck off. Basically,
he's the worst version of a liberal I could come up with, even though he's
ultimately proven right in the end."
Giving weight to all sides of the ideological divide is something that
Barinholtz expects audiences will
respond to. "This movie definitely has characters who are not on my side of the
political spectrum, but I felt
it was important to give all of them some good talking points and fair
arguments," he says. "Because of that,
anyone who watches The Oath should find it relatable and entertaining."The
To play Chris's levelheaded wife Kai, the filmmakers reached out to comedy
Haddish, fresh from her breakout role in the acclaimed comedy hit Girls Trip.
"From the moment I saw
Tiffany in Keanu, I was impressed by how real, tough, and funny she was," says
Barinholtz. "I remember
thinking that I'd love to play her husband in a movie someday, so I had her in
mind for The Oath from the
Barinholtz sent Haddish the script early on and was encouraged by her glowing
reaction. "She really
responded to what we were trying to say with the movie, and she told me that
she'd never read anything like
this before," he recalls. "So we had a long talk and got into all kinds of deep
conversation about the character,
and as I learned more about her as a person I knew we had to cast her."
Haddish offers high praise for Barinholtz's skill behind the camera. "Ike is a
terrific actor, but he's
also an excellent director," she says. "He's very giving and creates a nice
synergy on set. He's willing to listen
and let you try things, which is really important to me."
Describing her character as a "ride-or-die type chick," Haddish found that Kai's
made her a compelling addition to the film's ensemble. "She's an interesting
character to play because she
comes from a place that no one else in the movie comes from. She loves her man,
but she loves her baby
even more. She adores her entire family, but she's really there for her
daughter, and she'll do whatever needs
to be done to protect her."
According to Mansfield, casting Haddish in the role was a major coup for the
film. "We're so lucky
that Tiffany wanted to be in The Oath, just as she was breaking out as the
biggest comedy star in the
business," he says. "She's an incredibly talented actress, and does great
dramatic work in this movie. Of
course, she can't help but be hysterically funny."
Since family is such an important theme in The Oath, it only makes sense that
Barinholtz would cast
his younger sibling, actor Jon Barinholtz, in a lead role. "I knew I wanted to
have my brother Jon play my
fictional brother Pat in the movie because we're very close in real life," he
explains. "And it totally works, in
part because there's 33 years of pent-up stress and repressed anger between us!
Even though we're best
friends, there's just so much history there."
The on-screen relationship between the two brothers is extremely antagonistic,
and Barinholtz says
he knew he could push Jon hard enough to get some explosively funny interactions
on set. "When Pat is
annoying the hell out of my character, I drew from times in our past when Jon
really pissed me off."
The idea of casting an authentic family member was a major plus, says Mansfield.
something so cool when relatives actually play relatives, and Jon nails his
character in a way that makes us
laugh every single time."
The younger Barinholtz describes his character as well-meaning yet completely
definitely a kid brother to an opinionated older sibling, and I think his
politics are a reaction to that. I also
think he leans in when he knows that he's rubbing someone the wrong way. In
fact, he might even secretly
enjoy the feeling of people being angry at him."
The chance to share the screen with his older brother initially drew him to the
project, but the quality
of the material is what motivated the younger Barinholtz to sign on. "The script
just blew me away because
it's so current!" he says. "I mean, it's literally reacting to what's going on
around us right now, which is rare
and very exciting. Plus, our parents said Ike and I had to work with each
Halfway through The Oath, the arrival of two government agents turns a
holiday into a potential life-or-death emergency. Barinholtz wrote the role of
Peter, the more rational of the
two federal intruders, specifically for his longtime friend John Cho. "Peter is
a very kind character, and Cho is
such a nice guy and so likeable, so it was a perfect fit," he explains. "I mean,
who doesn't love John Cho?"
Mansfield sums up Cho's response to the script in one word: obsessed. "He
checking in with Ike every day, and couldn't have been more enthusiastic to get
involved with the project,"
says the producer. "He just loved the material that much. The performance he
gives in the film is
While the chance to work with his close friend was a key factor in accepting the
role, Cho claims that
the script's thought-provoking insights on current events made it impossible to
resist. "Some people are
probably going to make assumptions about the politics of The Oath, and Ike is
certainly passionate about his
own beliefs," says Cho. "But what struck me most about the screenplay was how it
showed that little things
can spark and then explode with unintended consequences. This movie makes you
consider how we might be
seeing something happening right now in our culture that's going to metastasize
in unexpected ways later on."
Beyond the film's provocative storyline, the opportunity to act alongside comedy
Haddish and Nora Dunn was its own reward, says Cho. "We really enjoyed watching
each other work, which
is unusual when you're all trapped in the same room together for so many scenes.
Everyone brought a
different kind of energy to the set, and it was very cool to see these
tremendously funny actors handling the
Unlike in The Oath, however, Thanksgiving dinner at Cho's house is a bit more
Thanksgivings are mostly dullsville," he says. "There's a lot less murder around
my table than there is in this
movie. I'm not saying there's no murder... just less."
Actor Billy Magnussen plays Mason, the sinister half of the CPU team, in a
Mansfield calls "intimidating and frightening." According to the producer,
Magnussen's malevolent intensity
in The Oath will shock viewers who recognize him as the lovable doofus he
recently played in the comedy
hit Game Night. "Billy really helps bring the story to a threatening level that
leaves the audience deeply
unsettled," the producer says.
Originally written to be played by an actor in his 50s or 60s, Barinholtz
rethought the role following a
disturbing real-life incident from last year. "After the events in
Charlottesville, I changed my mind about the
character," he says. "When I watched the news coming out of there, I wasn't
seeing a bunch of old guys in
the crowd of white supremacists. I was seeing 25-year-old white guys who were
enraged and scary looking."
Magnussen approached the role not as a traditional villain, but as a dark mirror
image of the film's
main character. "Mason is on the other side of the scale that's holding Ike's
character Chris," says the actor.
"He's the equal weight on the opposite side, and he challenges Chris's beliefs
completely. Mason truly
believes in and loves America, but in a very different way than Chris does, and
he'll do anything he needs to
in order to protect it."
For Barinholtz, Mason represents an all-too-real danger that's currently facing
the country. "We're
seeing a lot of Masons pop up all over right now," he says. "There's this angry,
toxic masculinity that's
choking a large swath of young men in the United States at the moment."
Finding Common Ground
Reflecting on the current renaissance of socially conscious cinema, McKittrick
sees The Oath as part
of a larger national conversation. "Anytime there's political turmoil in the
world, art and entertainment will
respond to it. And right now is probably the craziest political climate we've
experienced in decades, perhaps
ever," he says. "As a moviegoer, I love to see social commentary built into
entertainment. That's what I loved
about Get Out when Jordan pitched it to me, and it's what drove us to buy the
book rights and make
BlacKkKlansman. Audiences don't want to be preached to, but they do want to see
their fears and beliefs
expressed in entertaining ways."
But can a film about division somehow manage to bring people on opposite sides
of the political
aisle together? Carrie Brownstein, who plays Barinholtz's character's
well-meaning sister Alice in The Oath,
thinks it's possible. "Everything is so partisan and polarized right now, and it
all feels bifurcated between two
extremes," she says. "So my hope is that this movie will make people think about
what the middle ground
might look like. How can we find commonality? How can we reach and acknowledge
the goals that we
Summing up his film's ultimate message, Barinholtz settles on a timeless adage:
This too shall pass.
"The truth is that presidents come and go, and governments change, so you
shouldn't do anything that's
damaging to your family, your close friends, or yourself in response," he says.
"We need to weather the storm
together so we come out stronger on the other side."
Does that mean his next Thanksgiving holiday will be less stressful than the one
that inspired him to
write The Oath? "Here's something I realized while making this film," says
Barinholtz. "If you can get
through Thanksgiving dinner, two drinks in, surrounded by friends and family,
and you know that a slice of
pie is coming soon, there's really not a lot to fight about. So now I try to
adhere to that."
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