The Integrity of Joseph Chambers

Tess (Jordana Brewster, the "Fast & Furious" franchise) might be annoyed when her husband Joe (producer/set decorator Clayne Crawford, "The Killing of Two Lovers") wakes her up with a Clint Eastwood line for the umpteenth time, but she’ll do anything to get him back into bed when she realizes he’s determined to go out hunting on his own, the insurance salesman having little experience.  Joe’s claims of wanting to be able to take care of his family if ‘things go south’ are but a cover for the male ego, and when things do indeed go south on his solo hunting trip it will test “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers.”

Laura's Review: B+

Writer/director Robert Machoian follows up his masterful "The Killing of Two Lovers" with the same crew and star for another exploration of the male ego pummeled into vulnerable submission.  Clayne Crawford, the distraught husband and loving dad of the prior movie, embraces an about face here, this time playing a buffoon playacting at being a man’s man.

We get our first glimpse of Joe shaving in his bathroom mirror.  He models his hunting mustache for Tess who hates it (notably, the three other men we will encounter in the film all sport the beard Joe presumably just shaved off, more secure in their manhood), then heads over to Doug’s (Carl Kennedy) to borrow his truck.  He also borrows Doug’s gun, almost immediately inadvertently pointing it at his friend’s head. 

Everything we watch Joe do spells trouble.  He arrives at a private property, opens a gate to drive in but fails to close it.  He falls asleep in a treestand, exhibiting no patience at the next.  Distant sounds from a nearby ballpark encourage him to fantasize – loudly – about heroic athletics (Crawford has the ability to make having conversations with himself feel entirely natural).  When he finally spots a deer, he chases after it, crashing through brush and when he hears a twig snap behind him he whirls around and fires.

Machoian’s script begins to verge into Coen brother territory before succumbing to the tragedy it was foreboding all along, Crawford metamorphosing in the filmmaker’s last act.  Joe is in shock with the police chief (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, AMC's 'The Walking Dead') who knows him on sight and treats him with gentle compassion.  The Joe we’re left with is a very different man than the one we started with, now calling for his family to comfort him rather than protect them.

Using the same boxy ratio he employed with “Lovers,” director of photography Oscar Ignacio Jiménez ("The Killing of Two Lovers") begins and ends in close-up, but favors medium and long shots throughout Joe’s journey.  But while Jiménez is adept at capturing the beauty of light shafts falling into the forest, we become distracted by the shifting angle of the sun, clearly lower in scenes followed by others when it is higher.

Returning Danish sound designer Peter Albrechtsen ("The Killing of Two Lovers") works with composer William Ryan Fritch to create an evocative soundscape, natural sounds, the drumming of woodpeckers prominent, interwoven with musical instruments played for tone rather than melody.  A canny sound edit overlays Brewster’s voice as Crawford segues from his awful present circumstance into an imagined aftermath, one that casts him as the metrosexual Joe always was at heart.  “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” feels like the second of a trilogy on the American male and if Machoian and Crawford are up for a third, I’ll be looking forward to it.

Robin's Review: B

Joe (Clayne Crawford) makes a good living selling insurance in the big city and, with his wife Tess (Jordana Brewster) and their two kids, have moved back to her home town in the foothills of Appalachia. A good living is not enough, though, and he wants to prove he can provide for his family when the apocalypse comes in “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers.”

Following up on their 2020 debut feature, director-writer Robert Machoian and his star Clayne Crawford continue their theme on men-child and their foibles and screw ups. This time, clueless Joe goes against Tess and his best friend Doug’s (Carl Kennedy) forceful advice and decides to man up on his own, borrows his friend’s hunting rifle and sets off to find and shoot a deer, proving he can take care of his family.

Of course, like Tess and Doug, we the viewer know that this is a bad idea – the equivalent of giving a loaded pistol to a two year old – and the wonder begins. How much and when is Joe going to screw this up? The answer is: just wait and see.
Sure enough, the novice Great White Hunter gets easily distracted from his task at hand. He falls asleep in a hunter’s blind, pitches rocks at a tree as he makes crowd noises and skips stones on a pond. Then, he sees a deer, takes chase and, eventually, fires his gun blindly. This is where the title of the story begins to apply and I will leave it at that. Find out for yourself.

Clayne Crawford and Robert Machoian must be BFFs and the two seem to make movies working hand in hand. I would be interested to see the director squire another actor and the actor try out another helmer. In the meantime, I hope they collaborate again and soon.

Gravitas Ventures releases "The Integrity of Joseph Chambers" in select theaters and on VOD on 2/17/23.