Throughout history, stories of honor, courage, loyalty, and integrity have become known to modern audiences. Whether it be your favorite comic book superhero movie or a retelling of Biblical stories, our common ancestors took their word seriously. Their word was their bond. And so, the story of The Oath is another entry in the cinematic legacy.
Darin Scott, who co-wrote, stars, and directs The Oath, plays Moroni, the sole warrior of a long-decimated culture. Isolated and hiding from the ravenous King Aaron (Billy Zane), Moroni seems to be waiting to be called into action again while maintaining his vigilance. Much like the last crusader Indiana Jones happens up in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Moroni recognizes his oath above all else. However, the actor’s take on the role is to be mindful of his present. This gives Moroni an unexpected warrior’s edge, comparing him more to the character of Maximus from Gladiator, a story Scott borrows from or William Wallace of Braveheart fame. All of the films mentioned here derive their conquests and saviors from a form of martyrdom rooted in the world’s religions.
Aaron, who aims to rid the world of what he does not agree with, does so by brutally alienating his mistress, Bathsheba (Nora Dale), and in her abandoned state, he happens upon Moroni. An interesting yet over-extended Adam and Eve-type relationship develops between Moroni and Bathsheba. There is the cultural tension between the two, which Scott and Dale seriously play before it evolves into a romantic tension.
Scott allows the tension to evolve naturally despite the cultural divide between them. Both characters are on their guard, initially not trusting one another. Dale plays Bathsheba as an aggressor at first, a highlight of The Oath, while Moroni is accepting and at peace within himself, and as a director, keeps the story flowing with the intersecting chase Aaron leads to find Bathsheba through Mahigana (Karina Lombard) and Cohor (Eugene Brave Rock).
Although the romance between Moroni and Bathsheba is the primary driver of The Oath, Mahigana is a far more interesting character. Lombard plays her character with unexpected aggression; after discovering what’s become of Bathsheba, her stance softens at the possibilities of peace in an unwritten future, tearing at her duty while recognizing the courage to drive change.
Zane plays Aaron with the same zeal the actor has played in past roles. Much like Nicolas Cage, we know precisely what level of Zane we’ll get, and we’d not be disappointed if only the character were on screen throughout The Oath. Yes, we feel his presence, but the story doesn’t fully allow the character to exude his physical presence, which is a shame, especially since Aaron feels so threatened by Moroni’s existence that the story peripherally explores in favor of that, which makes Moroni a threat to Aaron.
Brian O’Carroll’s cinematography plays a strong hand in the storytelling, with significant use of light, both natural and artificial. Yet, it is O’Carroll’s framing that catches attention. For most of the film, the characters are not centered, giving rise to the emotional questioning behind their actions: is this romance real? Are the characters’ actions supported by their shared histories that the future could be brighter than the past? That most of the movie is set in a lush forest adds more intrigue, and O’Carroll and Scott suggest a shrouding of the romance and the chase as a contrast to the suggested openness of the meaning behind the oath that Moroni swore.
This leads to interesting pieces of an otherwise standard fare in The Oath. At its heart, it is a spirited story. Scott drives this aspect of the film subtly enough that the onscreen action and the characterizations. The tension is unequally distributed but in an understandable way. None of the characters, other than perhaps Aaron, are underutilized. When the credits rolled, there was respect for the sacrifices the characters made in service of the story, even if the sum of its parts didn’t fully congeal.