As a returning veteran who was wounded in Afghanistan, Lawrence gets a chance to once again turn the volume down and deliver a low key performance minus any hint of some of the flashier roles she has gotten since receiving her breakout first Oscar nomination in 2010’s Winter’s Bone. It is a pleasure to see this immensely talented star take it down a few notches and throw herself into an understated portrayal of a woman who is not only suffering from the effects of physical wounds, but more deeply the unseen wounds inside that have had devastating effects on her ability to live a normal life.
Lawrence plays Lynsey, who worked for the US Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan and experienced both body and brain injuries when the vehicle in which she was travelling hit an explosive. After a period of intense rehabilitation she returns home to New Orleans (shown in a different light than as seen in countless movies) where she moves back in with her mother (Linda Emond), a loving but very difficult personality who doesn’t help matters with a daughter needing re-direction in a life devastated by her wartime experience.
Taking tentative steps back into living, but actually longing to get well enough to take up another tour, she gets a job as a pool cleaner much to her mother’s dismay. It is something simplistic enough that she can handle it, or at least believes so, but when her truck gives out on her she takes it to a auto repair where she meets a mechanic named James (Brian Tyree Henry), with whom she somehow forges an unlikely friendship, one that both take to awkward levels after being casual new friends, both in their own tentative ways exploring the possibilities beyond. Their connection as it turns out is the shared physical and psychological recovery process from a life-changing accident, in James’ case involving a car and the death of his nephew, and the loss of a leg. In a poignant and beautifully underplayed scene the details of his own trauma come to light as they sit by a pool she is taking care of. The fragile connection of two very fragile people, aching for some human interaction but almost incapable of letting go of themselve is heartbreaking. Both are caught in the crossroads of needing to love again, or even for the first time, but unconvinced it is something they deserve or even desire at this point in their lives.
With a screenplay by novelist Ottessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel, and Elizabeth Sanders, and careful non-stylized direction from first time feature filmmaker Lila Neugebauer, Causeway is ultimately a small human story (it is only 92 minutes) of the lifelong sentence of trauma, its real time effects, but more piercingly its irrevocable impact on the lives of two people, still in pain, but looking to each other to help get to the other side. This is indeed a gem of a character study, a quiet study of two damaged people as played by a pair of exceptional actors who never let us see them acting. Lawrence may have waited a few years to re-emerge in a full blooded leading role, but it is one that reconfirms the fact he she as extraordinary range, able to tell us everything about a person without really telling us anything at all. It is all there in the eyes. Henry is every bit of her equal here, showing again he is one of the finest actors around, capable of stealing a silly movie like the current Bullet Train, and just as capable of capturing the soul of a man afraid to face his past, but hoping there may be something more.
The film belongs to Lawrence and Henry, but there is fine, if limited, support from Emond who is ever-reliable, Jayne Houdyshell in an early scene helping to rehabilitate Lynsey, and Stephen McKinley Henderson as her doctor, among others who turn up here and there. Diego Garcia’s cinematography and Jack Fisk’s production design add admirably to the ambiance of this effective and affecting tender drama.
Producers are Lawrence, and Justine Ciarrocchi. It is a collaboration between Apple Original Films and A24. It will open in select theatres and begin streaming on Apple TV+ November 4.