Film Review: ‘The Oath’

the oath tiff
Courtesy of TIFF

Baltasar Kormakur directs himself as a surgeon who resorts to extreme measures when his daughter falls for a drug dealer.

Directing himself in a starring role for the first time, Baltasar Kormakur enters Liam Neeson terrain with “The Oath,” wherein his Reykjavik physician protagonist will do almost anything — legal or otherwise — to protect his drug-addict daughter from an enabling boyfriend. This assured suspense drama, which sports little of the blackly comedic streak usually associated with its maker, is a solid commercial prospect that could also easily lend itself to remake sales.

Finnur (Kormakur) is a dedicated and talented heart surgeon with an attractive young wife (Margret Bjarnadottir) and very young daughter. But he also has an older child by a prior marriage (that ex-wife now lives in Los Angeles), and Anna (Hera Hilmar) is the bane of his otherwise charmed existence. A perpetual mess, she’s currently dropped out of school, unemployed, still relying on dad to pay the bills, and is “madly in love” with new beau Ottar (Gisli Orn Gardarsson).

Though the latter makes a passable impression when invited to family dinner, Finnur quickly susses that not only is party-overhearty Anna back on illicit substances, but Ottar is most likely her supplier, as well as a local dealer by profession. As she’s over 18, dad’s ability to control his daughter’s activities (let alone commit her to rehab) is severely limited. Nonetheless, his gestures in that direction earn the ire of Ottar, who might be genuinely fond of Anna — but that doesn’t stop him from physically attacking her father in retaliation, or threatening the whole clan when he feels his fiefdom is imperiled.

Once their conflict escalates past the point of any reasonable solution, Finnur begins plotting to forcibly remove this perceived bad influence from Anna’s life — even if that means resorting to abduction, drugging, grievous bodily harm and other things well off the med-school syllabus. Meanwhile, wracking up felony crimes doesn’t excuse him from his surgical duties (which grow problematic when stress results in a botched minor procedure on a child patient), and Ottar’s disappearance brings unwelcome scrutiny from police detective Birna (Gudrun Sesselja Arnardottir).

Though its characters are well-cast and defined, “The Oath” is, like most of Kormakur’s films (including recent English-language features “Everest,” “2 Guns” and “Contraband”), primarily plot-driven, with a growing pile of crises threatening to blow Finnur’s upstanding-citizen cover as everyone searches for missing Ottar. The helmer/co-scenarist, who started out as an actor before stepping behind the camera, dominates proceedings here with a credible performance that is committed rather than showy. Nonetheless, the 50-year-old Colin Farrell lookalike does not neglect to repeatedly show off the impressive physical shape he’s gotten into for this on-screen spotlight.

As with his prior films going back to “101 Reykjavik,” “The Oath” is stylistically straightforward and technically polished. Ottar Gudnason’s widescreen photography makes good use of dramatic Icelandic landscapes, through which cyclist Finnur must frequently, frantically pedal when trying to juggle his dual lives as big-city surgeon and rural cabin captive-keeper.

Film Review: 'The Oath'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 10, 2016. Running time: 103 MIN. (Original language title: "Eidurinn")

Production

(Iceland) A RVK Studios presentation, in collaboration with Film4, ZDF Television Network, ZDF Enterprises, in association with XYZ Films. (International sales: XYZ, Los Angeles.) Producers: Baltasar Kormakur, Magnus Vidar Sigurdsson. Executive producers: David Kosse, Agnes Johansen, Margrit Stärk, Doris Schrenner.

Crew

Director: Baltasar Kormakur. Screenplay: Olafur Egill Egilsson, Kormakur. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Ottar Gudnason. Editor: Sigvaldi J. Karason.

With

Baltasar Kormakur, Hera Hilmar, Gisli Orn Gardarsson, Margret Bjarnadottir, Gudrun Sesselja Arnardottir.

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