The Buzz: Crackle's ‘The Oath’ Is a Generic Brand Crime Show
The Oath, the latest series to air on Sony Crackle, is about crooked cops working in Los Angeles. They rip off drug dealers, and prove themselves badder than most of the so-called bad guys they’re supposed to be arresting. It’s is predictably gritty, filled to the brim with shaky action scenes and tough characters, but what The Oath lacks, especially given its similarity to other famous crime stories, is a distinct flavor. It’s the lowest common denominator version of dirty cops, a generic brand that hits the necessary beats and nothing more.
The pilot (“Deal”) opens with a title card that explains the existence of criminal organizations within the police department, suggesting that what we are to see may parallel true events. This is a promising angle, no doubt, especially with former L.A. County Sheriff's Department deputy Joe Halpin credited as series creator. Alas, the opening heist scene rips off the crime film Heat with such blatant disregard that any inkling of realism is smacked in the face, like the unlucky security guard who tries to be a hero. The Heat similarities are taken a step further once we get to know the main crew. There’s Steve Hammond (Ryan Kwanten), the stoic mastermind, Cole Hammond (Cory Hardrict), the impulsive hothead, Pete Ramos (J.J. Soria), the family man, and Karen Beach (Katrina Law), the voice of reason. All types found in Michael Mann’s 1995 film, particularly Kwanten, who tries his hardest to channel the spirit of Robert De Niro’s McCauley, but none manage to supercede their superior influences. Not even a little.
The pilot goes on to illustrate how each character is flawed, and why it is that they’ve turned to a life of crime. Truth be told, the reasons provided are as trite as you’d assume-- a sick mother, a mortgage, “the thrill of the hunt.” Yada yada yada. Steve and Cole are revealed to be adopted brothers, and they bicker as two teenagers would, not men who are respected LAPD members. Their father, Tom Hammond (Sean Bean), is doing a bid in prison, and his inclusion feels laughably extraneous to the story, as if the showrunners landed a big name at the last minute and had to figure a way to cram him in. Bean looks sleepy in each of his scenes, and it's hard to blame him, given some of the trite dialogue he’s forced to deliver with a straight face.
Take, for instance, the first conversation between Cory and Tom. “Yeah dad, I got it” says the former, revealing a connection before the latter responds with “Okay son” to affirm that they are, indeed, related. If it were any more on the nose we wouldn't be able to breath. The hokey dialogue isn’t restricted to Bean, either, as we see whenever a line is meant to be profound or “cool.” Coolness seems to be especially important to the writers, to the extent that depth is sacrificed for shots of the characters beating people up or walking while nondescript hip-hop music plays. It’s okay at first, but the further we get into the ten episode season, the thinner their schtick gets.
Those looking for solace in the action scenes will be equally let down. The camerawork on The Oath, courtesy of a dozen or so directors, is an incoherent mess, bringing out the worst of the famed “shaky cam” style. The ADD angles and low lighting make it a challenge to discern who is fighting whom, or who is even winning, and by the second episode, you’ll struggle to care. I never thought I’d reference Den of Thieves in a positive light, but that film at least acknowledged its Heat influence, and resulted in a campy romp with some enjoyable action. The Oath, by comparison, is a dour undertaking that lacks both the charm and the style of the Gerard Butler thriller.
It's rare that the flaws of a series can be whittled down to a single line, but The Oath has been kind enough to provide such a line. It comes at the tail end of the pilot, when the FBI are questioning Steve and his crew. They spin some bogus tale about how they weren’t involved in the robbery, and one of the agents respond with this: “Is your ass jealous of the s**t that comes out of your mouth?” The odds of a series being good, or even decent after that are slim, and The Oath sure as hell isn’t up the challenge.