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TIFF 2022 Review: Causeway – “A sensitive and significant portrayal of the different ways we deal with trauma and grief”

Courtesy of TIFF

When Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence) went to Afghanistan as part of the US Army Corps of Engineers she didn’t expect to return home this way.  As she sits awaiting transport to rehabilitation nurse Sharon’s (Jayne Houdyshell) home she is silent, shell-shocked.  Her vehicle in Afghanistan exploded, causing injury to her brain and the loss of her colleagues’ lives.  The use of her left arm is limited, she requires assistance walking.  As her doctors remind her, there is a strong link between trauma and depression.  There is a long road of rehabilitation ahead of her, both for body and soul.

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As she eventually leaves Sharon’s house, painkillers, antidepressants and anxiety medication in tow, she returns home to New Orleans where her unreliable mother (Linda Emond) lives.  It’s here that she strikes up a friendship with an affable mechanic, James (the ever excellent Brian Tyree Henry) who is recovering from physical injury and mental anguish of his own.  The two find comfort in one another, yet Lynsey’s main goal is to re-deploy, to leave New Orleans and a painful past behind her.  As she says to James, “What if Afghanistan wasn’t the only trauma? What then?”

Causeway is director Lila Neugebauer’s feature debut, having previous experience both in television and theatre.  That theatre background plays well here, with an ability to capture intimate moments during some of the more dialogue-heavy scenes.  In fact, this film could do very well as a play, though missing out on cinematographer Diego Garcia‘s (Wildlife) images would be tragic.  There are some amazing visuals, especially highlighting some of New Orleans’ most beautiful pools that Lynsey starts cleaning for a job.  The quiet tranquility of these stunning backyard oases acts as contrast for the fraught tension of Lynsey’s deafening, traumatized mind.

Jennifer Lawrence puts up some of her best work in Causeway.  Last seen in last year’s Don’t Look Up, this is a role that is more of a callback to her work of Winter’s Bone, much more subtle and nuanced.  Lawrence wears Lynsey’s trauma not with a great deal of displayed agony, but instead with a lack of expression, numb and detached.  Yet, her character’s interactions with the world result in a great deal of empathy, such is her performance.  It’s remarkable to see her work with Brian Tyree Henry who continues to choose interesting and different roles for himself.  His character has lost so much and Henry makes all of James’ pain and guilt palpable.

Causeway is a sensitive and significant portrayal of the different ways we deal with trauma and grief.  It moves slowly, deliberately paced and those wanting or expecting a big dramatic punch or climax won’t find it here.  But, sticking with Neugebauer’s vision for Causeway is ultimately rewarding.  It’s a true testament to what trust and friendship mean in the face of true adversity and the journey of healing.

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