Joseph Chambers (Clayne Crawford), or “Joe” as some call him, is not the kind of man you would think could provide for himself on a solo hunt. Not one person in his life even thinks that is possible. He’s a salesman with very limited hunting experience, and yet he has enough of an ego to think the opposite of what others tell him, including his wife Tess (Jordana Brewster).
The opening scene of The Integrity of Joseph Chambers shows our titular character shaving to where he only has a Wyatt Earp-like mustache. He looks in the mirror and repeatedly paraphrases one of the famous lines from the movie Tombstone (“Hell’s coming with me”) by saying “Hell’s coming to town” in a very gruff voice. Immediately, we’re drawn to this oddball-like character with Crawford’s exceptional and offbeat performance.
Joseph tells his wife that in order for him to be prepared for the end times, he has to prove himself as a man. And that means he has to go hunt deer by himself in the woods. Tess, as sweet as she may be, is unable to convince him to bring a friend along, especially since he has only hunted once and doesn’t have the proper equipment. Joe ignores her worries and believes that in order for him to feel accomplished, he must go it alone.
Swapping his BMW for a friend’s four-door truck (again, he’s riding solo) and bringing along one hunting rifle and plenty of ammunition, Joseph sets out for his one-day excursion. One doesn’t have to take Tess’ word for it, as we see Joseph’s inexperience when he mishandles a rifle by pointing it at his friend Doug (Carl Kennedy), who loans him the truck and weapon and then later blows into the barrel of the gun to clean it when it falls to the ground.
The film becomes a mostly one-man show, as Joseph makes his way out into the woods for his trek and waits for the deer to come. Crawford hilariously captures the boredom one may feel on a solo hunt, and the character’s quirkiness is a delight to watch. Even as we may cringe at some of the idiotic things Joseph does, we still get a kick out of seeing him continuously fail. And then when he thinks he’s successful at something, he imagines the largest crowds cheering him on.
Director Robert Machoian essentially turns The Integrity of Joseph Chambers into two films. One is a quirky comedy in which a man repeatedly fails at proving his manhood. The other is a tense drama in which rash decisions were made that alter the same man’s life. Machoian is able to find the right balance without making it too silly and sets the film more in a real-world situation. This unexpected turn is a welcoming, seamless transition, as the titular character’s adventure becomes more than what he thought, and he has to choose between what is morally right and what he can do to get out of the situation. That description may be vague, but it’s the best way to go about not giving away too much.
Machoian and cinematographer Oscar Ignacio Jiminez give the film a lot of long, steady shots as Joseph battles his inner thoughts and tries to figure out the next best step. Seeing Crawford go from being an oddball to someone who fears what’s coming is compelling and a great example of how an actor can shift the performance at the right moment.
The Integrity of Joseph Chambers is a masterful effort that outlines one man’s decision between choosing what’s morally right and what he feels is best for him. It’s a great example of how to flip a film in a different direction and leave the viewer stunned. It’s one of the best films to come out of the Tribeca Film Festival and also one of the best films of the year.