Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: Lila Neugebauer
Writers: Elizabeth Sanders, Luke Goebel, and Ottessa Moshfegh
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry
By Calum Cooper
Jennifer Lawrence plays Lynsey, an ex-soldier in “Causeway” (2022). She has returned from Afghanistan after suffering from a traumatic brain injury in an explosion. Despite this, being back at home with her mother (Linda Emond) has brought up bad memories. As such she is keen to get back to Afghanistan, despite her doctor’s protests. While at home, she befriends a mechanic named James (Brian Tyree Henry), and the two begin to grow closer.
Trauma is at the heart of “Causeway”. This is a story about the multi-dimensional forms trauma can come in, and how such feelings can shape our choices and personalities. Sometimes those choices can be a detriment to ourselves and even worsen our mental health. Yet director Lila Neuguebauer never loses her empathy for these characters. The film she has crafted is sage, sensitive, and quietly intimate in ways that immerse the audience in states of lachrymose.
Water plays a key component in the film’s visual and narrative motifs. A reflective element that can be shaped into anything within its environment, it is a big part of Lynsey’s life. She worked in hydro mechanics in the army, and upon returning home she obtains a job as a pool cleaner. Water is both a source of cleansing and meditation in “Causeway”, as Lynsey considers what it is she wants in life, and what trauma(s) she has to confront. This recurring motif matches well with the film’s grey colour palette. The focus on ripples foreshadows the lasting effects trauma can continue to have on our lives long after the splash of the incident itself.
“Led by two powerhouse performances, and supported with deft, thoughtful filmmaking, “Causeway” is a brilliant, moving start to Neugebauer’s theatrical career.”
Diego Garcia’s cinematography, twinned with the editing by Robert Frazen and Lucian Johnson, add to the sense of reflection woven into the film’s atmosphere. Composed of long shots and wide takes, the film takes its time quietly dwelling in the weight of its themes. Meanwhile, close ups and a script full of sharp dialogue adds compelling emotional dimensions to its characters. As they hang out, laugh and share their stories together, Alex Sommer’s score enhances the unspoken intimacy and connection between these two people who have found each other at crossroads in their lives.
Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry are mutually magnificent. They bring these characters to life through phenomenal chemistry and a sublime understanding for their circumstances. There is strength and vulnerability alike in their performances. Their many scenes together are so magnetically charismatic that one could get lost in their conversations with ease.
There is a confidence in the filmmaking behind “Causeway”, but only to a certain point. When it is immersed in the general lives and dilemmas of its leads, “Causeway” is an excellent movie of sublime compassion. However, it loses some of its magic in a third act that leans more on formula than feeling. In a rush to reach its resolution, the film loses some of its momentum to conventional conflict.
Yet this does little to negate what is an otherwise deeply emotional and well-measured experience. Led by two powerhouse performances, and supported with deft, thoughtful filmmaking, “Causeway” is a brilliant, moving start to Neugebauer’s theatrical career. Here’s hoping we are due for a dozen more features from her.