The Integrity of Joseph Chambers, 2023.
Written and Directed by Robert Machoian.
Starring Clayne Crawford, Jordana Brewster, Michael Raymond-James, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Colt Crawford, Carl Kennedy, Hix Crawford, and Charline St. Charles.
A family man, hoping to prove his survivalist capabilities and manliness to his family, decides to irresponsibly head off into the woods and go deer hunting by himself.
Expectations of what a film should be are irrelevant. Having said that and being familiar with writer and director Robert Machoian’s solo directorial debut, The Killing of Two Lovers, a dark story of marital struggles that opens with a husband (Clayne Crawford, also the star here) pointing a gun at his wife’s head while she is asleep in bed with another man, there were preconceived notions that this follow-up titled The Integrity of Joseph Chambers would be similarly bleak and emotionally draining.
It is, but in a completely unexpected way, that functions as a black comedy gunning down the false sense of manliness provided by gun ownership and hunting before, somehow, shifting into a character study about one man brainwashing himself into thinking he did nothing wrong after tragedy strikes while weighing serious moral consequences that could affect his mental state of being and his family.
By the end of The Integrity of Joseph Chambers, the film has done what feels impossible, transforming a joke character (the titular Joseph Chambers) into someone worth investing in emotionally as a flawed human and a cautionary tale about pursuing archaic forms of masculinity.
It also wouldn’t be possible without a gripping central performance from Clayne Crawford, game to act out spirited imaginations such as fantasizing about closing out the World Series (complete with appropriately silly sound effects) while feeling the isolation and boredom of waiting for deer to shoot, to the black core of the story demonstrating the dangers of firearms and the pointlessness of hunting as a whole. He is primarily a one-man show here, and the film breathes with engagement from his outstanding ability to portray this character in a different light with each new story development. As a filmmaker, Robert Machoian continues to stun with complex sound design that elevates the pressures and stress of his lead character.
Specifically, Joseph Chambers is a financer that has recently moved with his family (wife briefly played by Jordana Brewster) to a rural area, fixated on adapting to the environment and the clichés of that lifestyle, citing that he needs to be prepared in case the end of the world arrives. His wife assures him that none of this is necessary and that he should stay true to himself. She mocks the mustache he is growing to fit in with the locals, repeatedly offering him sex instead of heading out to get in some hunting practice and, hopefully, catch some dinner.
It is also brutally funny in a twisted punchline that if Joseph Chambers had just stayed home and focused on what he had in front of him instead of feeding his ego and looking to prove his manliness in a misguided fashion, he would have had a fantastic day.
From the moment Joseph Chambers parks a borrowed truck at the entrance to the woods and starts loading up his also borrowed rifle (the ammo is his, though), it’s evident that this man should be nowhere near a water gun, let alone firearms. Again, his bumbling idiocy is initially amusing, solidly carrying the film until disaster strikes. The Integrity of Joseph Chambers visualizes how fun guns can be in theory but how dangerous they are.
Plot specifics are intentionally kept vague here, as the most compelling way to enjoy The Integrity of Joseph Chambers is to experience it blindly. All one needs to know is that despite minor beats of repetitiveness and a bit too much of a slow burn in one or two areas (a few minutes could have been trimmed minutes here and there), the message here has some severe buckshot to it, and Clayne Crawford delivers an astonishing performance that brilliantly balances goofball humor and heavy drama.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com