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Tribeca 2022: The Integrity of Joseph Chambers pits man against nature

The Integrity of Joseph Chambers

Clayne Crawford stars as a man who puts his life at risk in the name of toxic masculinity.

This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival

A couple of years ago, filmmaker Robert Machoian and actor Clayne Crawford teamed up for The Killing of Two Lovers, a bleak drama about an ordinary man whose determination to live up to a code of masculinity that was long past its cultural shelf date put him on a crash course with potential and easily avoidable tragedy. The two have now reunited with The Integrity of Joseph Chambers, a project that is a little more ambitious in terms of size and scope than that film but which once again explores the concept of a guy wrestling with his beliefs of what it is that makes a man, only to find himself not even close to being up to the task. In many ways, the film is like a brutally effective modern-day retelling of the classic Jack London short story To Build a Fire, another tale in which a guy determined to prove himself to himself finds himself in a very bad way for no real reason at all. 

Crawford plays Joseph Chambers, a nice and unassuming family man (he’s even an insurance salesman) who is inexplicably seized with the notion that the only way that he can truly prove himself as a husband and father is to get up early one morning and go out into the nearby woods by himself to shoot a deer. He justifies this to his wife (Jordana Brewster) by saying that it will show he can provide for them in the event that society falls apart. Far from being impressed, she points out to him that he doesn’t know anything about hunting and that to go off and do this alone is just asking for trouble. When that doesn’t work, she even offers an infinitely more ideal way for him to demonstrate his masculinity. Alas, he is not to be dissuaded and heads off to do what he inexplicably has decided that he must do.

In many ways, the film is like a brutally effective modern-day retelling of the classic Jack London short story To Build a Fire

Right from the start, Joseph demonstrates that he is probably not up to the task of simply walking in the woods, let alone attempting to hunt anything. When he borrows a hunting rifle and truck from a friend, he barely seems able to handle the truck, let alone the weapon. When he finally arrives at his destination, he further proves his lack of mettle by using the gun to whack away the brush in front of him and making “pow-pow-pow” noises like a little kid playing cops and robbers. It’s pretty obvious that something awful is going to happen and when it finally does, the rest of the film finds Joseph struggling with the physical and emotional consequences of a situation in which he never should have put himself in the first place.

In ways other than the merely thematic, The Integrity of Joseph Chambers is a companion piece to Machoian and Crawford’s previous collaboration. Both films are essentially solo shows for Crawford, who excels at showing the pain and confusion of a man who is forced to confront the fact that the notions of what it takes to be a man are nothing more than outdated horseshoe. Stylistically, Machoian once again adopts a fairly spare storytelling approach in which he utilizes a deliberately cramped visual style and a relentless sound design as a way to suggest the ways in which his characters have trapped themselves in psychological prisons of their own design. 

Although Machoian’s cinematic approach may prove to be a bit too  dramatically spare and relentlessly grim for some viewers, I found The Integrity of Joseph Chambers to be a fascinating work that illustrates how even the most seemingly benign forms of toxic masculinity can lead to awful results. It also builds on the promise that Machoian and Crawford demonstrated in their previous collaboration and I cannot wait to see what they come up with next.

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Peter Sobczynski

Peter Sobczynski is a Chicago-based filmcritic whose work can be seen at RogerEbert.com, EFilmcritic.com and, well, here. He is also on the board for the Chicago Critics Film Festival and the Chicago Film Critics Association. Yes, he once gave four stars to “Valerian” and he would do it again.

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