Review: ‘The Integrity of Joseph Chambers,’ starring Clayne Crawford, Jordana Brewster, Michael Raymond-James and Jeffrey Dean Morgan

July 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Clayne Crawford in “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” (Photo by Oscar Ignacio Jiménez)

“The Integrity of Joseph Chambers”

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.

Review: ‘The Killing of Two Lovers,’ starring Clayne Crawford, Sepideh Moafi, Chris Coy and Avery Pizzuto

May 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Avery Pizzuto and Clayne Crawford in “The Killing of Two Lovers” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“The Killing of Two Lovers”

Directed by Robert Machoian

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city the dramatic film “The Killing of Two Lovers” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A married father, who is in a trial separation from his wife, experiences problems when his wife begins dating another man.

Culture Audience: “The Killing of Two Lovers” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching a mostly slow-paced but well-acted story about marriage and family problems.

Sepideh Moafi and Clayne Crawford in “The Killing of Two Lovers” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

The title of “The Killing of Two Lovers” suggests that there’s going to be a murder in the story and that maybe the movie is a thriller. People looking for a murder mystery will be disappointed because it’s not that kind of movie. Instead, the film is a slow-burn character study of a married father who’s separated from his wife and wants to get back together with her, but those plans have been thwarted because she’s dating someone new.

What happens during this love triangle builds up to a big climactic moment that is the standout scene in the film. But since it takes so long to get there, there’s a simmering tension that can be felt underneath the surface at all times. It’s entirely realistic, but it might bore some viewers who might expect the movie to take a more predictable route of family melodramatics that involve married parents who could be on the verge of divorce.

Written and directed by Robert Machoian, “The Killing of Two Lovers” begins with spouses David (played by Clayne Crawford) and Niki (played by Sepideh Moafi) already separated for an unnamed period of time, but it’s implied that it’s been less than a year since they stopped living together. Niki still lives in the marital home, while David now lives with his bedridden, widowed father (played by Bruce Graham), who has respiratory problems and doesn’t have a name in the movie. Based on what David says later in the movie, David and Niki were sweethearts in high school, she got pregnant, they got married soon after graduating from high school, and more recently they began to drift apart.

David and Niki are trying to figure out the future of their relationship while sharing custody of their four children: daughter Jesse (played by Avery Pizzuto) is about 15 or 16 years old; son Alex (played by Arri Graham) is about 10 or 11 years old; son Theo (played by Ezra Graham) is about 7 or 8 years old; and son Bug (played by Jonah Graham) is about 4 or 5 years old. They all live in an unnamed U.S. city, which is in a somewhat rural area that snows. The story is told from David’s point of view.

It’s mentioned later in the movie that David really didn’t want the separation and that it was Niki who asked him to move out of their family home. David still loves Niki and has been trying to get back together with her, but there’s a big problem with that plan: Niki has started dating a man named Derek (played by Chris Coy), and this new relationship might be getting serious. David and Niki had agreed during their separation that they could date other people, but it still hurts David to think that another man could be raising the kids as a possible stepfather.

How much does it bother David that Niki has found a new man? In the film’s striking opening scene, David has snuck back into the house and is pointing a loaded gun at Niki and Derek, who are sound asleep in the bed that David used to share with Niki. David ends up not pulling the trigger, and he quietly sneaks out a house window before anyone sees him. If Niki and Derek had woken up when David was pointing a gun at them, they would’ve seen the deranged and angry look on his face.

It’s the first major hint that David could be emotionally unraveling and might do something extreme or violent. The rest of the story keeps viewers guessing over how far David will go to get back in Niki’s life and get the family back together again. But sometimes, it’s a monotonous journey to get to the point when it’s revealed what will happen to David and his family. The “killing” in the movie’s title could also be a metaphor for the death of a romance and how it affects the couple who used to be happy together.

A great deal of “The Killing of Two Lovers” shows the mundane routines of David’s everyday life, as he tries to adjust to this marital separation. He goes to a local convenience store where he is friendly with some local townspeople. But when David happens to see Derek there, they silently glare at each other. Derek and his personality remain a mystery until a pivotal point in the movie.

It’s not clear if David has had a career in anything. For now, he seems to be doing odd jobs around the area. A middle-aged widow named Mrs. Staples (played by Barbara Whinnery) hires David to remove large tree branches from her property. As they discuss the fee that she will pay him and how long it will take him to complete the job ($100 a day over a two-week period), David asks Mrs. Staples if she had a good marriage to her late husband Tom.

Mrs. Staples candidly replies that her marriage had a lot of problems. And she says of long-term love relationships: “Love is a feeling. And feelings, they move in, they move out. You and Niki will work it out.”

But will they? When Niki sees David, she hugs him and tells him that she loves him, but she remains vague about her future plans with Derek. She’s also not ready to give David a timetable on when she’ll decide to get back together with him or file for divorce. It’s a limbo that’s making David upset and anxious, but he tries to be a dedicated and loving father to his and Niki’s children.

However, David clashes with Niki over some parenting issues. She gets angry when she finds out that David secretly visited their three sons at 2:30 in the morning at the family home. And both parents are frustrated over how to deal with their teenage daughter Jesse, who is starting to rebel because of David and Niki’s separation. Jesse has been skipping school and wanting to spend less time at home.

Jesse is taking the separation hardest out of all the children. One day, when David sees Jesse walking down the road, when she should be in school, he stops his truck and chases after her. She tries to run away, but he catches up to her. While David drives Jesse to school, Jesse’s pent-up resentment comes out in an explosive argument.

Jesse makes it clear that she hates that Niki is dating another man. “Mom’s cheating on you,” she tells David. David replies diplomatically, “No, she’s not. We agreed that we could see other people at this time … I’m not going to make your mom out to be the villan in this thing.” Jesse shouts, “Dad, you need to fight for us!”

On another day, Jesse’s anger comes out again when David has taken her and the three boys to a park during his designated visitation time. David has planned for them to shoot toy rockets at the park, but Jesse is bored and frustrated. Instead of participating in this activity, she kicks one of the rockets and insists on being taken back home. When they get back to the family home, something happens that determines the fate of this love triangle that’s been causing much of the turmoil in this family.

All of the actors give emotionally authentic performances, but this movie is mostly a showcase for Crawford’s versatile acting skills. And he delivers in a few scenes that pack a visceral punch. There’s nothing remarkable about the technical production of “The Killing of two Lovers,” but its biggest strength is in how the actors skillfully portray the angst of people trying to hold their lives together when their relationships are falling apart.

Neon released “The Killing of Two Lovers” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 14, 2021.

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