July 18, 2022
by Carla Hay
Directed by Robert Machoian
Culture Representation: Taking place in Pell City, Alabama, the dramatic film “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with two African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Against his wife’s wishes, a father of two young sons goes hunting in a wooded area by himself and experiences a tragedy and a moral dilemma.
Culture Audience: “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a well-acted character study of what someone can choose to do in an unexpected crisis.
“The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” is a sparsely cast drama that presents a fascinating emotional journey of a man dealing with a tragedy and a moral dilemma during a hunting trip. It’s not a particularly outstanding movie, but the acting is commendable. Clayne Crawford gives an entirely believable performance as someone who begins mentally unraveling the more that he delays making a decision that he dreads having to make. “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
Written and directed by Robert Machoian, “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” has a very simple plot. Joseph “Joe” Chambers (played by Crawford), who is in his 40s, is a former city dweller who now lives in the rural town of Pell City, Alabama, and he wants to prove that he’s a capable hunter in this rural area. Joe lives with his wife Tess (played by Jordana Brewster) and their two sons, who don’t have names in the movie. The older son (played by Colt Crawford) is about 16 or 17, while the younger son (played by Hix Crawford) is about 8 or 9. (The sons are portrayed by Clayne Crawford’s real-life sons.)
One day, in the early-morning hours near dawn, Joe and Tess have an argument at their home because Joe has suddenly announced that he’s going hunting in the woods alone that day. And nothing is going to change his mind. It’s something that he’s apparently been thinking about doing for a while, but he’s abruptly told Tess about it just minutes before he plans to leave for this hunting trip. Not surprisingly, she’s not happy about it.
Joe and Tess bicker in hushed tones because they don’t want to wake up their children, who are sleeping in a nearby bedroom. Tess’ main concern is that Joe doesn’t have enough experience to be hunting alone. He asks her, “Why are you blowing this out of proportion? Tons of guys around here hunt for their livelihood. Your dad does it. Your dog does it.”
Tess adds: “You’re not from here, Joe. You sell insurance for a living—and you’re really good at it.” Joe says defensively, “Well, I live here now.” Tess replies, “You haven’t hunted with Doug enough to go out on your own. I have a funny feeling about this, but you just keep ignoring that.” Viewers soon find out that Doug is a neighbor/friend who has been training Joe to hunt.
Joe accuses Tess of being mean-spirited, and she says she sorry. But she still objects to his decision. She comments, “We moved out here to provide our boys with a safe, familiar place to grow up in, not become some ‘end of the world’ Fox News people.”
Joe responds, “That’s not what’s happening.” Tess then says, “My dad, prepping for ‘end of days.’ That’s why I left.” She adds, “Go [hunting] with Doug next week. That’s all I ask.” Joe decides to decline that request. Tess calls Joe’s decision “irresponsible” and “stupid.”
Before Joe leaves, he goes into his sons’ bedroom and sees that one of them is awake. He says goodbye. As Joe is heading out the door, Tess tries one last tactic to get Joe to change his mind. She pulls down her trousers and wiggles her rear end suggestively, to let him know that she’s willing to have sex with him instead of Joe choosing to go hunting alone. However, Joe is undeterred and he leaves the house.
Joe’s next stop is to go to Doug’s place to borrow Doug’s truck and Doug’s hunting rifle. Doug (played by Carl Kennedy) is also skeptical about Joe’s ability to hunt alone, but he accommodates Joe’s requests. Doug also makes this decision after Joe mentions that Joe and Tess got into an argument about Joe hunting alone. Doug says he doesn’t want to get involved in this marital spat, but Doug obviously has gotten involved, because he’s taken Joe’s side by agreeing to help Joe.
Joe has chosen an area that is private property owned by a friend. Joe mentions to Doug that Joe got the friend’s permission to hunt on this land. Joe also found out that there would be no other people in the area at the same time that Joe would be hunting. It’s why Joe is certain that he will be safe during this hunting trip.
Most of “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” takes place in the wooded area where Joe has decided to hunt. The first third of the movie somewhat drags with not much happening except Joe trying to find something to shoot. During a stakeout in a tree, he also briefly falls asleep. But when a movie has someone with an intuitive feeling that something bad is going to happen, you can expect something bad is going to happen.
Joe sees a deer in the woods and shoots at it. When he goes to inspect the body on the ground, he’s horrified to see that it’s an unidentified middle-aged man (played by Michael Raymond-James), who was out of Joe’s eye range when Joe shot at the deer. Is this shooting victim dead or unconscious? Who is he and why was he trespassing on private property? The movie reveals the answers to those questions.
Joe now has a moral dilemma. Should he report this shooting accident, or should he cover it up and pretend that nothing ever happened? The man has no identification and there were no other eyewitnesses to the shooting in this very remote area. However, the bullet could be traced back to the gun that Joe used. The rest of the movie shows Joe grappling with what decision to make. The movie has one big surprise twist, but it’s not very shocking.
“The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” is best enjoyed by people who don’t mind watching a movie where a large part of the film has no dialogue. The tension in this psychological drama isn’t based on fast-paced actions but rather on Joe dealing with the slow and sinking feeling that whatever decision he makes, it will have a major impact on him for the rest of his life.
In his performance that anchors the movie, Clayne Crawford authentically expresses all the tumultuous emotions that someone would go through in this crisis: fear, sadness, anger and guilt. “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” is very much a showcase for Clayne Crawford (who is also one of the movie’s producers) because he’s in every scene in the movie. Jeffrey Dean Morgan has a small supporting role as an unnamed police chief. Just like Brewster’s role as Joe’s wife Tess, Morgan’s role in the movie has less than 10 minutes of screen time.
“The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” effectively shows how people’s lives can instantly change in a matter of seconds. And, of course, “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” will also make viewers think about what they would do in the same situation that Joe is in after this accidental shooting. Because of a certain surprise that happens in the movie, Joe’s problem becomes even more complicated.
The movie isn’t concerned with being sanctimonious about Joe’s fateful decision to go hunting alone in the woods on this particular day. Joe is also not supposed to represent all inexperienced hunters. What “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” is more concerned about is taking an unflinching look at what happens when a horrific mistake is made and what someone can choose to do about this mistake. This choice doesn’t just affect the future of the person making the decision. This choice is a reflection of exactly who that person is.
UPDATE: Gravitas Ventures will release “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on February 17, 2023.