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The Oath

Doctors take a hippocratic oath. As a movie critic, my oath is to steer you away from bad movies, and recommend the good ones. With that, I must implore you to drop everything, and head to the Digital Gym while you can. You need to see The Oath, a terrific Scandinavian noir flick that had my wife and me on the edge of our seats.

While people complain about subtitles in foreign films, it’s often subtlety in foreign films that makes them so much more enjoyable. I’ll explain in a bit.

The story involves a surgeon in Iceland that has a second wife and young daughter, but it’s his older daughter (Hera Hilmar) that’s causing him some grief. She’s dropped out of college and is living with a drug dealer (Gisli Orn Gardarsson). An example of the subtle stuff that American filmmakers sometimes have problems with would be the dinner scene. We know this guy is trouble, and when he’s asked about what he does for a living, he says, “A lot of stuff. I sell cars.”

He’s not covered in tattoos, or cursing out the father (not yet, anyway). An American movie would go over the top showing how vile this person is, instead of letting us learn, the way the father does, just how bad this situation is. Heck, they might cast Liam Neeson or Daniel Craig, and those guys would just punch the dude in the throat at the dinner table.

Director Baltasar Kormakur (2 Guns, Everest, Contraband), who used to act, cast himself in the lead. And for awhile, his character tries doing things the right way. He tries talking sense to his daughter. He tries talking to her boyfriend. He even calls the cops and reports the drug use.

When he gets into a little trouble with the drug dealer and threats are made, things go south fast.

Luckily, the surgeon, much like Liam Neeson, has a special set of skills. Unlike Neeson, they don’t involve fists. They involve medications that can knock you out for days, and knowing what type of shotgun can hurt you the worst, without killing you. Now, that’s about all I’ll give away.

Some of the stuff felt a bit familiar. I thought of Black Snake Moan at times, as well as The Debt and Headhunters (those last two movies were on my list of the best 100 movies of the 21st century, so it’s in good company).

Another thing the movie gets credit for is not just making one dimensional characters. The daughter may be the typical drug addict, but we learn a little bit about her boyfriend that’s interesting. And the father, although mostly stoic, gives a lot of nuance to the character.

This gets 4 stars out of 5.