Since the dawn of the motion picture medium, filmmakers have mined writings, teachings, and events based on or relating to religious history and scripture. Of the many thousands of these films, there are some that center on the origins of a particular faith, and most of them are biographical stories of Jesus Christ.
Co-written, produced, directed by, and starring Darin Scott, “The Oath” (based in part on Mr. Scott’s 2018 short film “Reign of Judges: Title of Liberty”) is one of very few movies to explore the beginnings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS).
A quick Internet search of movies featuring Joseph Smith and Brigham Young will yield dozens of titles, but neither of these two LDS pioneers were the literal founders of the faith.
The Gold PlatesOne of the last survivors of the Hebrew Nephite people, Moroni (pronounced MOR own ay) spent the last years of his life in what is now Palmyra, New York, located about 20 miles southeast of Rochester. This is where, on Sept. 22, 1823, Smith claimed Moroni’s ghost led him to the spot where the sacred “gold plates” were buried. These bound sheets of gold leaf contained writings and hieroglyphics that were eventually translated by Smith and became The Book of Mormon.
At various points resembling “Gladiator,” “The Passion of the Christ,” “Dances with Wolves,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” and “Braveheart,” “The Oath” mixes elements of drama, action, romance, and fantasy to stirring effect.
Earning TrustBeaten and subsequently banished from her Blackfoot tribe for angering tribal leader Aaron (Billy Zane), Bathsheba (Nora Dale) is rescued and nursed back to health by Moroni. Initially leery of Moroni and suspicious of his motives, Bathsheba eventually warms to him, not so much because of their shared physical attraction, but rather through his opinions regarding humanity and faith.
After being informed by his spies that Bathsheba is now living with Moroni, Aaron takes on the twisted “I don’t want her anymore and don’t want anyone else to want her either” mindset and sends a band of assassins to kill them both.
Among the assassins are Aaron’s trusted but temperamental right-hand man Cohor (Eugene Brave Rock) and Bathsheba’s estranged expert archer sister Mahigana (Karina Lombard). Each wishes to improve their standing with Aaron, and their collective zealous attitude leads them to make several “unforced errors.”
Superb BalanceMr. Scott and his co-writer/wife Michelle deserve high marks for crafting a balanced story that is inspirational without being preachy, sometimes violent without being excessively gory, and romantically alluring without being forced or graphic. The Scotts also include a detestable villain (Mr. Zane’s Aaron) that would be right at home in a James Bond movie.
My only gripe with the film—and it’s a big one—is the omnipresent, frequently invasive score by composer Trevor Morris. Rarely do 30 seconds pass without background (and sometimes foreground) music pushing emotional buttons where none was needed.
I will be very interested to see what Mr. Scott does next. For a rookie feature director to make a film this good on what was likely a shoestring budget, while also juggling producing, writing, and acting duties, is beyond impressive.
With “The Oath,” Mr. Scott has firmly established himself as a major force within the Christian-themed filmmaking genre, a movement that grows in popularity and respectability with each passing day.