Lila Neugebauer’s Causeway is an intimate portrayal of a soldier’s struggles after returning home from a traumatic explosion. While the premise isn’t entirely fresh or new, it’s gripping to have a female veteran’s point of view and experiences centerfold when such films usually look into the post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by men. And while that could perhaps be more common due to who’s making the films, Neugebauer’s vision brings a raw, haunting character study to our screens.
Jennifer Lawrence returns to compelling storytelling with Causeway, allowing quiet beats to propel the narrative forward as she escapes into a role that fits her skills incredibly well. While Lawrence hasn’t exactly gone anywhere, the last few films she’s been a part of have yet to do much to showcase her great rage as an actress. As Lynsey, Lawrence brings a natural heartbreak to the former soldier’s physicality and expressiveness. And thereby, her scenes with Lynsey’s neighbor, James (Brian Tyree Henry), make for some of the most intriguing moments throughout the film as both characters quietly excavate their demons in an attempt to heal together as friends.
Further, while the film is a slow character study, it provides enough depth to uncover layers of heartache that make each moment gripping to watch, even when it feels like there’s still more to dig up. In the short run-time, we get to know our main characters on personal levels that permit their traumas to bleed forward, making it a part of the audience’s journey as well. It’s tough to watch at times, but it never goes too deep into creating something that will be far too difficult for anyone to stomach.
At the end of the day, the entirety of Causeway relies on the performances to exhibit what’s within and showcase how the characters are moving forward. Lawrence does this in a riveting fashion, but we knew that would be the case going into the film. I was particularly struck by Brian Tyree Henry’s brilliant showcase of a man trying to get by, opening himself up with a gentleness in his eyes that immediately shows us he has his demons even before he reveals them. Henry’s performances bring a myriad of heart to James, allowing us to feel the trust he cements, coupled with his fears.
While silence, along with the gripping performances, allows the film to evolve and become what it is, at moments, there are pieces from the puzzle missing. This ambiguity isn’t a bad thing per se because the groundwork is still there for anyone looking deep enough, but it still leaves us wanting to know our characters a bit more. Toward the end, Lynsey visits her brother Justin (Russell Harvard) in prison, which leads to the most heart-shattering and profoundly moving conversation in American Sign Language. In this scene, we can see Lynsey’s heart on full display, coupled with the immense adoration she visibly carries for her family and her brother. The film asks its audience to look onward with empathy, and this is the scene that brings the most moving emotions throughout the film.
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Overall, Causeway stands strong as a film with remarkable performances and a tremendous door opener for Lila Neugebauer, whose vision as a filmmaker is undoubtedly poignant and absorbing.
Causeway is now streaming on Apple TV+.