By John H. Foote
(***) on Apple Streaming
The reasons to see Causeway are the performances which are remarkable. Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence, who won her Oscar 10 years ago now (seems like a century), gives the finest screen performance of her career, no mean feat because the lady has been damned fine in the past. Here though she digs in, deeper than she has in years, and creates flesh and blood woman suffering from a debilitating injury in the war in Iraq that is preventing her from returning to duty.
Lawrence’s performance is a return to the kind of raw, visceral work she did in her early films, Winter’s Bone (2010) and Silver Linings Playbook (2011) for which she won an Oscar as Best Actress. The actress has always possessed the ability to bring audiences to her, causing them to lean forward and pay attention to what she is saying, and watch her listen, pay absolute attention to her at all times. She is present in every scene.
Lawrence is Lynsey, an engineer in Afghanistan who is blown up when the vehicle hits an Improvised Explosive Device leaving her with a severe brain injury. In the opening sequence director Lila Neugebauer, in her directing debut, gives us an idea what Lynsey’s daily routine is, as she re-learns how to brush her teeth, hold a water glass, basic things that are now gone from her memory. Though frustrated, she does them, knowing it is the only way for her to get back to military.
Angry at what happened to her, impatient at how long it is taking to come back, and frustrated with her body, she wants it all done right away, and that is simply unrealistic. Fiercely independent, she hates relaying on others to get through her day, a condition left over from her youth when she learned she could not count on her mother.
Striking up a friendship with the mechanic James (Brian Tyree Henry) who is working on her truck, her anger begins to slip away as she seems willing to talk to this big bear of a man. Initially cautious of one another, the more time they spend together, the more they find they like one another. They share that each is recovering from a trauma. Lynsey’s we know. James was the driver of the vehicle in an accident where people died, people close to him, and he cannot forgive himself. The closer they get, they tease one another easily, and truly enjoy the other’s company. Gradually they realize they are helping the other rejoin the society around them but are they prepared to be without the other?
Lawrence is a revelation in the role, capturing the inner pain of a woman who has been broken by war and will forever be broken by it. She may recover, she may go back to the desert, but she will be forever broken. Haunted by what happened to her, realizing how close she came to death, does she wish to go back to prove something to herself? We never really know. It is profoundly impactful performance in a small film that may get lost in the Oscar shuffle. I hope not.
The same is true of Henry, a superb performance that deserves some attention come Oscar time, but might not get it given that this is a small little movie. James has horrific trauma just like Lynsey, though a very different kind. Together they might find the strength to help one another without realizing it.
Lila Neugebauer comes from a background in theatre and her gentle guidance of the actors shows her strengths in that world. But she struggles to give the film any energy and real urgency. I know when I was recovering from a horrific car accident in 2001, getting out of that hospital was all that mattered to me. It was urgent, and it felt that way as it was happening. Life was going on at home and outside, and I was not part of it. Neither is Lynsey and she so wants to be. I think a more experienced filmmaker might have found that.
As it is this is a very fine film, and Lawrence is luminous in the role of Lynsey and would be a welcome addition to the Best Actress, however crowded it might be.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.