Producers: Darin Scott, Isen Robbins, Aimee Schoof and Randolf Turrow Director: Darin Scott Screenplay: Darin Scott and Michelle Scott Cast: Darin Scott, Nora Dale, Karina Lombard, Eugene Brave Rock, Billy Zane, Wasé Chief, Philip Niu and Aron Stevens Distributor: Freestyle Releasing
“The Oath” is what’s referred to as a faith-based movie, but an unusual one, not only in the fact that the faith is that of the LDS Church, already a fairly niche area excerpt for films produced by the church itself, but in that it’s a purportedly historical account of the prophet Moroni, who supposedly completed the Book of Mormon in fifth-century America and then buried the plates containing the text in what would become New York. According to church lore, after his death he was transformed into the angel who revealed the location of the plates to Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, in 1823. The plot here presents him as the last of the Nephites, being pursued by evil King Aaron of the Lamanites as he attempts to complete the work entrusted to him by his father Mormon. (In LDS belief, of course, the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas are seen as descendants of the Hebrews who travelled to the continent in ancient times.)
So it’s an uncommon film—comparable only to 2003’s “The Book of Mormon: Volume I: The Journey,” in which Moroni (Bruce Newbold) was a secondary character, a great warrior in ancient Israel; the trip to America provided its culmination. The hoped-for series never continued, however.
But the fact that in terms of subject matter this is an unusual film doesn’t mean it’s a good one.
Basically it’s a chase movie, with lots of running around in the forest by a small cast—Moroni (Darin Scott), who’s being pursued by Aaron (Billy Zane) and his faithful lieutenants Cohor (Eugene Brave Rock), Mahigana (Karina Lombard), and a couple of nameless assassins (Philip Niu and Aron Stevens). Sometimes it’s in regular time, and sometimes in slow motion. There are periodic quotations from the Book of Mormon emphasizing the need for faithfulness and obedience to God, which Moroni has maintained while Aaron and his followers have fallen away.
But Scott, who wrote the film with Michelle Scott and directed and edited it as well, adds another character to the mix: Bathsheba (Nora Dale), the mistress of Aaron who’s fled him because of his abuse of her and his mistreatment of his wife (Wasé Chief). She joins together with Moroni, which brings a heavy dose of romance to the proceedings, though they’re periodically punctuated by swordfights between Moroni and his pursuers. It all culminates in a final face-off with a supposedly surprising twist that leaves Moroni able to complete his mission.
“The Oath” struggles to feel epic, with Trevor Morris’ score pouring out a stream of grandiosity as well as some saccharine strains to accompany the swoons of Moroni and Bathsheba, but it remains curiously claustrophobic despite the outdoorsy setting. Brian O’Carroll’s cinematography manages a few impressive vistas (the picture was shot in New York), but it’s mostly pretty prosaic; the occasional visual effects are decidedly unimpressive.
AS for the acting, it might charitably be called rudimentary. Scott strikes heroic poses, and Dale is suitably frightened and in love. (There’s a prophecy of a child, too.) Probably the oddest performance comes from veteran Zane, outfitted with a beard that looks like a castoff from “Gods and Generals” and occasionally spouting what sounds like a bad Irish brogue.
It’s difficult to predict what LDS members will feel about Scott’s film. One can hardly doubt that for him making it was a labor of love, but its elaborations could very well be too much for many of them to accept, though the flights of fancy in many Biblical movies don’t seem to have bothered most viewers.
Setting aside issues of faith, however, as a movie “The Oath” leaves much to be desired: it’s solemn, repetitive and unexciting. It appears that a Mormon faith-based film is no better than most of the others.