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THE OATH

About The Production
The tradition of combining comedy and barbed social commentary that began in Hollywood's early 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 American life.

That trend continues with the biting and original black comedy The Oath, about a family struggling 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 always been 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 relatively fast."

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 the world."

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 BlacKkKlansman.

"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 and begin 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 fast turnaround.

"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 gripping suspense.

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." Balancing Perspectives

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 perspective reflected 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 Complete Package To play Chris's levelheaded wife Kai, the filmmakers reached out to comedy dynamo Tiffany 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 start."

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 strong personality 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."

Sibling Rivalry

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. "There's 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 irritating. "Pat's 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 other."

Understated Hilarity

Halfway through The Oath, the arrival of two government agents turns a dysfunctional family 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 basically started 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 understatedly hilarious."

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 heavyweights like 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 heavy situation."

Unlike in The Oath, however, Thanksgiving dinner at Cho's house is a bit more relaxed. "My 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." Toxic Masculinity

Actor Billy Magnussen plays Mason, the sinister half of the CPU team, in a performance that 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 share?"

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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