A soldier struggling to recover from injury leans on a newfound friend in Causeway
Causeway stars Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry in some of the best work of their careers. A careful character piece that allows its two stars to take the front and centre, it’s a quiet, measured study on trauma and recovery. The debut feature film from director Lila Neugebauer, it is playing at the BFI London Film Festival ahead of a general release on Apple TV later this year.
Lawrence plays Lyndsey, a soldier recently returned from Afghanistan who has suffered a traumatic brain injury when her vehicle was blown up by an IED. After rehab she is forced to return to her family home in New Orleans to recover, the site of an unhappy childhood and the last place she wants to be. Whilst she is clearly still suffering the effects of her injury, all Lynsey can think about is getting medically cleared to go back to the army.
After a chance encounter with mechanic James (Brian Tyree Henry) the two strike up a close but easy friendship. Whilst James appears in control of his life he is also struggling with a dark period in his past, and it is perhaps this shared trauma that allows the two to find kinship so quickly, though they keep their relationship light for most of the film.
Causeway is a quiet, reflective, purposefully small film. An unusual representation of trauma and PTSD in Hollywood, it eschews the big shouty emotional breakdowns we often see on screen in favour of showcasing two actors doing delicate work. Intent on ‘acting normal’ in order to convince everyone around her she has recovered, Lawrence keeps a carefully straight face through much of the film while her eyes are windows to the true pain inside. Henry’s eventual revelation and breakdown is equally subdued, the pair creating convincing characters that feel like real friends, real people, struggling with real world issues.
Causeway is the first film from Jennifer Lawrence’s own production company, see her talk about it here
Causeway proposes that the traumas these characters are facing may not be the headline ones we first imagine. Lynsey drops a series of breadcrumbs about a difficult home life that the audience are left to interpret, to contend with the notion that maybe getting blown up in Afghanistan isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person – but I do wish that this history had been expanded upon a little more. A really strong scene with her between Lynsey and her brother Justin (Fargo’s Russell Harvard) is a standout but not enough to quench the curiosity about what exactly happened in a past that is hinted at but not discussed.
The second half of the film doesn’t quite measure up to the very strong first half which contains some brilliantly acted, emotionally charged scenes of Lynsey’s initial rehab on getting back to the US. There are long stretches with little dialogue and much of Causeway doesn’t have a particularly ‘cinematic’ quality to it, feeling like it could easily have been a stage play or a radio drama. Yet the excellent performances are enough to keep the audience entranced and engaged with the characters journey, even if you don’t get the big Hollywood ending you might hope for.
Read more reviews from LFF2022 here
An early Oscar shoe-in for its two leads, Lawrence and Henry are turning in career best work. Causeway is a quietly hopeful film that reminds us of the importance of human connection and the role it can play in recovery. It’s brave in its simplicity, understated but beautiful.