An out of focus figure on the sidelines of the opening shot of Lila Neugebauer’s Causeway tips you off about what’s to come, even if your eyes are very much focussed on what turns out to be the patiently waiting Jennifer Lawrence in the foreground. It’s a familiar set-up – a former soldier returning home for treatment after a serious injury – but the context is in a lower key than most of its predecessors.
A brain injury has put the fiercely independent Lynsey (Lawrence) on the first plane home and, after surgery, she’s now coming to terms with learning to live in the civilian world. It’s hampered by the effects of her trauma – mobility problems, difficulties with writing and speech and a multitude of others. After living with sympathetic carer Sharon (Only Murders In The Building’s Jayne Houdishell) she returns to her mother’s home, hoping to repair their damaged relationship and build herself up again so that she can return to the army. It’s not as easy as she expects, but a job and then the friendship of mechanic James (Brian Tyree Henry) offers her some degree of hope, even if going on active service again seems more of a dream than a reality.
A downbeat, character-driven film, this sees Lawrence returning to the stripped back, grittier roles that first brought her to our attention. Her Lynsey isn’t always easy to like and there are times when it’s difficult to imagine such a solitary, independent person fitting into army life. But she clearly loves it, even if it was her means of escape from an unhappy home. We’re left in little doubt of the after effects, both physical and mental, that go with her injury, even if her recovery does appear a touch too rapid – and she still manages to garner our sympathy as she battles against her own physical limitations and the limited support systems for returning veterans needing to carve out a new life.
Her only moments of real peace come with her job. Cleaning swimming pools take her to idyllic surroundings, luscious gardens with serene pools and it’s no wonder she occasionally takes a dip. As her friendship with James develops, they share each other’s company in the water and find that there’s more to the connection between their two damaged souls. He has a prosthetic leg, the result of a car accident, but we slowly discover there’s more to the story than he first reveals – just as Lynsey’s story takes its time to unfold. Brian Tyree Henry more than matches his co-star in a performance that conceals the pain behind an easy going exterior, a mask that he is reluctant to drop – because whenever he does, it always goes wrong. He’s seriously impressive and, on this showing, the promise of Atlanta is delivered and more.
The two stars are essentially the beating heart of the film, creating a strong and convincing relationship, so it’s frustrating that the film occasionally slips into a facile mode, with moments – one scene in particular – that simply fail to convince. Thankfully, they’re in the minority but they do temper your reaction to what is otherwise a thought-provoking drama about the realities of building a new life from a damaged one.
Drama | Cert: 15 | London Film Festival, 6, 10 and 15 October 2022 | Apple TV+ from 4 November 2022 | Dir. Lila Neugebauer | Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry, Jayne Houdishell, Linda Elmond, Stephen McKinley Henderson.