Causeway is a real “read between the lines” movie. That is to say, if you're looking for overt drama, keep on looking. This one has a whole lot going on, it's just mostly under the surface. Not unlike this past summer's excellent A Love Song, it's basically a two-person drama where you have to listen closely to what the main characters say and how they say it, while simultaneously observing their body language. Having two of our best working actors in the lead roles guarantees that viewers willing to do that will be rewarded.
Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence) is a veteran sent home from Afghanistan after the vehicle she was riding in hit an IED, leaving her with serious injuries. She moves back in with her mother, goes through grueling physical rehab, gets a job cleaning swimming pools, and tries to convince her doctor to sign the form so she can be deployed again. By chance, Lynsey ends up taking her car into the garage owned by James (Brian Tyree Henry). They strike up a conversation, and he gives her a ride. A friendship grows from there. She confides in him about the trauma she endured in combat. He, too, has been through a traumatic event, albeit of a different sort.
Causeway tracks the course of their interactions, during which they grow close, become distant, and struggle to maintain an undeniable bond that both desperately need. The film's message is clear and poignant – a key ingredient in healing trauma is to be around others who understand it. An interesting dynamic exists between Lynsey and James. Her response to trauma seems to be trying to rush back into the situation that caused it, almost as if doing so will minimize the impact of that trauma. James, on the other hand, has figured out how to live with his on a day-to-day basis. It's always right there under the surface, never completely out of his mind, yet he manages to carry out a normal daily routine.
Even if it's a little slight in the story department, the film earns your attention through the strength of the performances. Lawrence is outstanding as Lynsey, mixing defiance and vulnerability in a manner that makes your heart ache for her. She has strong chemistry with Henry, who perfectly gets across the notion that James is hanging on, but just barely. Interactions between the two draw us in because the stars show the way these two troubled individuals relate to each other. They can express things that couldn't be expressed to anyone else. Lawrence and Henry nicely underplay, even during a scene where Lynsey and James have a fight. That keeps the film from crossing a line into melodrama.
Causeway runs a brief 92 minutes. Could it have fleshed out the central scenario even further? Yes, room certainly existed for that. Director Lila Neugebauer has chosen to make a quieter, more introspective movie, though. And really, that's a smart choice. We have lots of “big” films about trauma. The intimacy of this one, combined with the high quality of the performances, sets it apart. It's a thoughtful, touching picture about the healing power of human connection.
out of four
Causeway is rated R for some language, sexual references, and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.