The experience of coming back from war is not an easy one. Returning after the resolution of a long-running conflict along with many others who have served is difficult enough, but when someone is forced to cut their tour short and feels like there is still more they could be doing on active duty, that sense of meaninglessness can be compounded. Not everyone’s experience is the same and may not be entirely without purpose, but it will certainly be an arduous adjustment. Causeway explores the interactions of one injured veteran and someone who has never been to war but is still reeling from a profound sense of loss.
Lindsay (Jennifer Lawrence) undergoes an extensive rehab process after being injured in a bomb explosion while working as an engineer in Afghanistan. She comes back home to live with her mother (Linda Emond) in New Orleans and finds work cleaning pools. When her car fails, she meets James (Brian Tyree Henry), a mechanic with a more visible scar – a prosthetic leg – and the two begin to spend time together, finding a relatability in being in each other’s company. Lindsay remains most focused, however, on one goal: convincing her doctor (Stephen McKinley Henderson) that she has substantially recovered so that he can clear her to go back for active duty.
The aftereffects of Lindsay’s accident manifest in subtle and inconsistent ways. Several times, she blurts something out which was clearly meant to only be said in her head, and recognizes almost instantly that she shouldn’t have uttered it aloud, even though it’s too late to take it back. She prides herself on being strong and capable but her body doesn’t always respond as it should, causing her enormous frustration. Her mother wants to spend time with her but doesn’t actually seem interested in really digging into what she’s been through, settling instead for surface-level conversation, while James is mostly amused by Lindsay’s direct nature until she begins pushing to get him to revisit things he doesn’t want to remember.
Causeway, which marks the feature directorial debut of Lila Neugebauer, remains firmly grounded in the present moment, opting not to include flashbacks or any scenes from Lindsay’s time in Afghanistan. It’s an effective choice since audiences are introduced only to the Lindsay who has come home, unaware of whether she was more social or energetic before serving and if her injury has substantially changed her personality. The same is true with James, who speaks adoringly of his sister and his nephew but, like Lindsay with her absent brother, refers to them in the past tense. It’s important that these two people have found each other since what they need most is the company of someone else to break up the feelings of isolation and aimlessness that so often overwhelm them.
Lawrence’s performance is closest to her breakout role in Winter’s Bone, stripped of the energy and charisma that has defined her work in other films like Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and Joy. The subdued nature of her character makes her infrequent outbursts of true emotion all the more intense and compelling. Opposite her, Brian Tyree Henry delivers a lived-in turn as someone with a house that’s too big for just him who still has a positive and pleasant demeanor. It’s great to see the Atlanta and Widows actor elevate the character with his naturalistic approach. Like the way both of them move through life, this film doesn’t offer easy or definitive answers, instead highlighting the value and warmth of a friendship that emerges for two people at a low point in their lives, helping to remind them of what matters most.
Following its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Causeway will debut on Apple TV+ on November 4th.