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Causeway ★★★



Director: Lila Neugebauer

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry, Linda Emond, Jayne Houdyshell, Stephen McKinley Henderson

Release: November 4, 2022 (Apple TV+)

The myriad ways trauma manifests after duty has been explored on-screen before, from 2018’s sublime Leave No Trace to 2021’s misfire Cherry. While those films are a gulf apart in terms of nuance, they do share depictions of PSTD that lead their characters towards radical behaviour. By contrast, Lila Neugebauer’s drama Causeway brings Jennifer Lawrence back to a leading role as a US war veteran recovering from injury in a far more subdued manner.

Lynsey (Lawrence) sustains a brain injury after hitting an IED. Wordlessly returning to her New Orleans hometown, she goes through the recovery motions as her nurse (Jane Houdyshell) pushes her along in a wheelchair and aids her in brushing her teeth. It’s immediately clear that being back with her mother holds no comfort and as time passes and she progresses (at least physically) – her sole aim is a return to duty. 

The breakdown of her van on the way to her new pool cleaning job introduces her to James (Brian Tyree Henry), a kind-natured mechanic. The pair strike up an easygoing companionship, and we learn that despite being a charismatic member of the community, James is also dealing with his own trauma and sense of isolation. 

Henry and Lawerence have natural chemistry, and as James and Lynsey embrace their friendship, details of past strife trickle through. However, Neugebauer resists the instinct to fill in the gaps via flashback. Rather, the narrative remains firmly in the present, highlighting that we, the audience, as with the characters, cannot become transfixed with the past – only what is happening now. 

Waterside is a recurring setting within the film and represents the chance for renewal. What is a safe space for Lynsey also becomes a place where James can also unburden himself. There’s little in the way of drama across the 92-minute runtime. As classic story structure dictates, our leading pair fall into conflict (one of the most poignant scenes between the two is somewhat undermined in order to make this happen). Still, there is no singular event that sets in motion an earth-shifting emotional spiral. Life simply goes on. 

By centring on the pain of the past yet keeping the present as the only visual focus, Causeway enables a message of letting go and looking to what is in front of us. Through James and Lynsey, we see characters who have suffered but also need to take accountability for their decisions. Henry, in particular, is skilled in projecting James’ likeability while hinting at a more fallible nature lurking behind the warmth of his eyes.  

Causeway will likely prove too sedate for some but is still a valuable and realistic study of how navigating PTSD is different for everyone. It’s a welcome return for Lawrence and delivers on the hopeful idea notion with re-evaluation and reconnection, the road to renewal is possible. 

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