[NOTE: This review contains spoilers.] After having made three no-budget features with co-director Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck, Robert Machoian broke through in 2020 with The Killing of Two Lovers, a psychological portrait of a man (Clayne Crawford) desperate to keep his crumbling family together. Set in a nondescript suburb in Utah, Two Lovers suggested that Machoian had evolved into a true regionalist, someone attuned to the social ambience of middle America but also able to articulate human universals within that particular atmosphere.
In his follow-up, The Integrity of Joseph Chambers, Machoian announces his intentions right in the title. This is a morality play of sorts, the gradual realignment of a man seemingly too foolish to realize who he is, and above all who he is not. Crawford stars once again as Joe, a middle-class family man in small-town Alabama who, like many of us, has become unsettled due to too much right-wing doom-scrolling. Fearful that he may not be able to provide for his family in the event of some unforeseen social collapse, he insists on setting out on a solo hunting trip.
Machoian and Crawford thread a tight needle with the character of Joe. He is a mild-mannered “organization man” who feels out of step with the masculine codes around him, and feels he has something to prove, more to himself than to his family or community (who seem to appreciate Joe for who he is). As Joe treks through his best friend’s private land with a borrowed rifle, we see that he is an untrained buffoon who has no business wielding a firearm. He barely knows how to load it, and when he does he swings it around like a toy, more than once pointing the barrel to his face. In this moment of acute anxiety regarding the number of firearms in America, Joe is someone that both gun-control advocates and diehard NRA members can agree should never hold a deadly weapon.
What happens is fairly easy to predict, although the fact that an accident occurs is not nearly as important as how Joe responds to it. He may lack the skills of an outdoorsman, but he seems to be fairly conversant with crime dramas, and so after some initial shock and disbelief, he goes into self-preservation mode. The ultimate question is, can Joe figure out what the right thing to do actually is, and if so, can he bring himself to do it? The Integrity of Joseph Chambers suggests that many different things can make you a man, but the ability to kill isn’t one of them.
Published as part of Tribeca Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 3.