THE STORY – 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.
THE CAST – Clayne Crawford, Jordana Brewster, Michael Raymond-James & Jeffery Dean Morgan
THE TEAM – Robert Machoian (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 96 Minutes
Following “The Killing of Two Lovers,” it was clear that writer-director Robert Machoian was an indie filmmaker that got the spotlight he rightfully deserved. His tightly paced drama was a critical success after premiering at Sundance in 2020. It’s safe to say many people wondered what Machoian would come up with next for his following feature film. As they continue their careers, most filmmakers tend to differentiate their style or create something on a grander scale. With “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers,” Machoian doubles down on all the sensibilities that make his films so innately captivating and his latest feature film might be his most surprisingly poignant work so far.
The film follows Joseph Chambers (played by Clayne Crawford), your typical average Joe. Chambers is an insurance salesman and a dedicated family who wants to ensure he’s doing his best for his loved ones. That’s why it’s bizarre that Chambers is enamored with the idea that he must go out and hunt out on his own. His mind is set despite his wife’s concerns, a close friend’s trepidations, and the fact he has little-to-no hunting experience. What follows on his day out hunting not only tests his skills as a “man” but his ethical fortitude as a human being.
First things first, Clayne Crawford gives a phenomenal performance as Joseph Chambers. His portrayal draws sympathy from viewers despite the questionable decisions he constantly makes throughout the film. Crawford revels in all of his character’s pathetic nature. His misguided attempts at overcompensating for such insecurities are fascinating to explore as the character embarks on what is, unknowingly to him, going to be the worst day of his life. Seeing how Crawford displays Chamber’s demeanor, watching his eagerness evolve into despair, is captivating until the film’s final shot. Every other actor that appears gives one scene performance, most notably Jordana Brewster (who plays Chamber’s wife Tess) at the film’s start. Jeffery Dean Morgan (who plays the local Police Chief) doesn’t even appear till the end of the film but has an endearing screen presence. Michael Raymond-James (who plays the Lone Wolf) has the most interesting on-screen dynamic with Crawford. Their interaction is the life force of the film that changes the entire trajectory of these characters’ lives. Their relationship also highlight the strengths of Machoian’s screenplay.
The story itself is actually quite bare bones in its simplicity. Its greatest strength isn’t just in the primary interaction between Chambers and the Lone Wolf but the themes surrounding Chamber’s entire mission. Chambers is the embodiment of male machismo, with an ego that blinds rational thinking. All of Chambers’ perceived “flaws and shortcomings” as a man have to be backed by traditional masculine-induced violence in order to be the protector his family needs. It is all a front for the person Chambers truly is, and it is slowly revealed throughout the traumatic dilemma he experiences. Machoian’s screenplay is also incredibly lean, which pairs well with the haunting direction of the film. You are constantly filled with dread as soon as Chamber steps out of his truck for his hunting excursion. The tension continually builds and builds throughout the film and doesn’t let up. Machoian also allows smaller moments of relief that occasionally let the audience’s guard down. For the most part, it works because it allows Crawford to really draw out Chambers’ emotional responses to certain situations. Other times, it feels a bit too stretched out and could make audiences impatient with the sequence. It’s rare, though, that Machoian’s sensibilities ever get to the point where it’ll disengage the audience, especially with how gripping the film is as a whole.
Besides Clayne Crawford’s committed performance, the best aspect of this film is the immaculate sound design by Peter Albrechtsen. Albrechtsen’s sound work is top-notch, even surpassing his work on “The Killing of Two Lovers.” Machoian’s commitment to having next-level sound work in his features is beyond admirable and helps immerse audiences into the story. “Sound has always had that importance, but in its most traditional form, the goal is for sound to be almost “invisible” to the audience,” says Machoian, “Rarely does a viewer come out of the theater discussing the sound design but we want them to.” Albrechtsen also collaborates with composer William Ryan Fritch incorporating his atmospheric sound work into the score. Leaves crunching, eerie breathing, and hearts beating, are just some of the types of realistic sounds that audiences will hear which will further immerse them in this riveting story.
Three features in Machoian’s career, and we can see he has clearly established the type of filmmaker he wants to be. He sacrifices elaborate storytelling for simple yet intimate stories of complex human emotions. Now throw in sleek camerawork, tight editing, and well-designed sound work; you have the pillars for what makes Machoian’s film so great. “The Integrity Of Joseph Chambers” is no exception.