Causeway review (LFF 2022): A brooding, heartfelt journey of recovery

Jennifer Lawrence delivers her best performance in years as an injured soldier who must re-adapt to civillian life in her sleepy hometown

Causeway review: Jennifer Lawrence in Causeway

Drama movies about soldiers returning from war often follow a certain formula. For a long time, soldiers who struggled mentally following their experiences on the frontlines were quite literally diagnosed with “shellshock,” with all their pain, trauma, and mental health issues reduced to a singular moment in their life.

In turn, films that followed the coming-home experiences of soldiers were often just as much a war movie as they were psychological dramas; with audiences often reliving the gunshots, shouting, and explosions right along with these soldiers through action-packed flashback sequences and overstimulation behind their haunted eyes.

Causeway differs because there is no such chaos behind the eyes of Lynsey, a former Armed Forces engineer who was forced to return home after experiencing a traumatic brain injury. Instead, Lynsey’s eyes remain glazed and glassy, with actor Jennifer Lawrence being able to convey the sheer impact of trauma without a single word.

In fact, in the first fifteen-to-twenty minutes of the movie, Lynsey barely speaks at all — we see her struggling with everyday tasks like cleaning her teeth, using the toilet, and showering, being gently guided back into life by empathic nurse Sharon, who, played by Jayne Houdyshell, radiates warmth and comfort throughout her short time on-screen.

Recovering from trauma doesn’t happen overnight, and oftentimes isn’t as dramatic and high-stakes as some thriller movies will make you believe. It’s a hard slog, takes a lot of adjustment, and even when you start to feel a little bit normal, that doesn’t mean the work is finished, or that you’re completely cured. And that’s what is so compelling about Lila Neugebauer’s directing and Lawrence’s portrayal of Lynsey.

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The film, which is more of an in-depth character piece than it is an action movie, looks at trauma through the lens of day-to-day mundanity. It reminded me of the “black dog” metaphor a lot of people use to describe depression, because in every single scene — from Lynsey sitting spaced out on her bed, to stilted conversations with her mum and frustrated words with her doctor — it’s clear that the character isn’t alone.

The Black Dog of Lynsey’s past and present trauma, her frustration with her ongoing brain injury, and her discomfort about being back in the place she literally went to war to get away from feels omnipresent in every scene of the movie.

Causeway review: Pool cleaning in Causeway

It’s a testament to Lawrence’s acting ability that she’s able to portray so much anguish and baggage without saying a single word. Conversations Lynsey has with her mother feel polite yet guarded: all the right words coming out and yet, at the same time, mutual resentment and disappointment are thick in the air between them.

In some sense, I wish we got more of Lynsey and her mother together — as Linda Emond does a great job of portraying a flawed but not a fundamentally bad person — but we can fill enough of the gaps ourselves by seeing the mother’s minute, casual neglect in terms of not collecting her from the bus stop, forgetting to drive her to her doctor’s appointment, and continuing to party after Lynsey arrives home.

That being said, the sequence between her and Lynsey in the pool, a rare moment of respite and unity in a clearly fractured relationship is one of my favourites of the whole movie, with both actors having enough chemistry to really nail the subtle, layered, complicated mother-daughter relationship despite only having a handful of scenes together.

Causeway review: Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry by a truck in Causeway

But when it comes to cast chemistry, Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry, who plays gruff mechanic James, take it to another level. Despite their shared history growing up in this small New Orleans town, they never crossed paths until now, and the sheer depth of their friendship and just how clearly they both need each other seems to sneak up not just on them, but on the audience too.

Their development from strangers to each other’s closest confidantes might seem rapid, but doesn’t feel forced or rushed. The pair seem to fall into an easy rhythm with each other almost instantly: with James driving Lynsey to doctor’s appointments and helping her transport exercise equipment. Like with Lynsey and her mother, there is a lot that feels unsaid between her and James — yet, the difference is that this shared silence doesn’t come from tension, but from a deep, mutual understanding between two people who have experienced profound pain in life.

Fortunately, the pair don’t end up developing a romantic relationship or desire to ‘fix’ or ‘save’ one another from their respective traumas: but the confusion that comes with such intense trauma-bonding isn’t a subject that’s shied away from or glossed over, either.

Causeway review: Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry in Causeway

The relationship between Lynsey and James helps the movie stay grounded at times when the script feels somewhat thin and the plot seems a little dragged and directionless, and the thing about Lawrence and Henry is that they really help to sell this relationship by acting not just with their words, but with their pauses, faces, mannerisms, and their whole bodies.

We always knew that Lawrence was capable of portraying trauma in a nuanced way on-screen because that is how she rose to fame in the first place — her breakout role was 2010 indie movie Winter’s Bone — but Henry is not only capable of holding his own when sharing scenes with Lawrence, but at some points, it feels like his performance even surpasses hers.

The Marvel movie actor approaches his character with such rawness and sensitivity that, at points, his performance honestly breaks your heart. If he doesn’t get an Academy Award nomination for this role, it would be a genuine travesty.

Causeway review: Brian Tyree Henry in Causeway

But above all, what’s truly remarkable is that this film, which is crafted with so much maturity and serenity, is that it is the feature-length directorial debut for Neugebauer. The main reason that these strong performances from Causeway’s cast are able to shine so much is because the scenes in which they inhabit fit the tone so well. The movie feels like a tapestry sewn together with equal amounts of warmth and honesty: a film that doesn’t shy away from the candid nature of trauma while ensuring it is still handled with care, respect, and above all, dignity.

Causeway will be released on the streaming service Apple TV Plus on November 4, and will have a limited theatrical release across the US and UK in October.

Causeway review

Jennifer Lawrence shines in this sensitive, layered meditation on trauma.