Causeway is in every sense of the word, an Indie movie. From the soft symphonic score to the pseudo-documentary approach, and dialog exchanges, Causeway is similar to almost any indie film on the market. However, there are exceptions to the rule when a picture makes strides in its casting. The winner in the casting department is not the lead but rather its co-star.
What makes most indie flicks similar to Causeway not work is its male leads. Often they’re played by a good-looking white guy who’s rough around the edges. Brian Tyree Henry excels at a role that could have been forgettable if played by the typical boy toy. BTH doesn’t contain the usual abbed-up or emaciated stick you see in the standard male counterparts. Brian’s a big guy. He looks more like a genuine love interest than a Ken Doll. Even better, BTH can make the words on the page come to life. As dull as Eternals was, I always woke up when Brian was on screen. He never sounds like he’s reciting lines or phoning in emotions when BTH listens to his fellow actors; he’s visually engaged.
The film’s lead, played by Academy Award Winner Jennifer Lawrence, is serviceable. There’s effort undoubtedly placed on the screen by Ms. Lawrence that helps carry much of the weight yet falters a bit on the way up the stairs. In its opening moments, I thought I would watch Jennifer Lawrence attempt to regain her mobility. The picture begins with JL sitting in a wheelchair with her back turned toward the camera. In the following scene, Lawrence sits upright on a bed while the shades are drawn, barely lighting her character. Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence) is disillusioned from battle. Her general senses are shocked by a vehicle explosion in Afghanistan. Within the first five to ten minutes, the picture shifts from Lynsey being unable to bathe herself to driving a vehicle.
When returning from physical rehab, Lynsey moves back home with her mother, Gloria (Linda Edmond), in New Orleans. At home, things seem civil between Lynsey and her mom. Gloria enjoys a good cocktail, albeit too much, but is a loving mom nonetheless. Yet she doesn’t understand her daughter, who can be a tough case to crack. Despite nearly dying and being immobile for months, Lynsey wants to return to combat. Why she wants to leave home is left as a vague comment about being traumatized from her birthplace before getting shell-shocked on duty, but it is only left at that.
James (Brian Tyree Henry) is a changed man after encountering his own form of PTSD, which he has not earned from battle but civilian life. In a story of friendship over relationships, Causeway’s effectiveness of love healing old and new wounds is resonant, if not overly familiar. The moments between characters are delicate but not rich in emotion.
Causeway’s screenplay plays the familiar beats. The emotions are present, but nothing is gripping, heart-aching, inspiring, or any range of significant emotions. It’s all very mellow, hindering on mundane. Not every film has to be mind-blowing or even entertaining. But a level of interest above the surface of feeling sorry for its characters could draw more attention. Whatever trauma haunts Lynsey could have fleshed itself out instead of being left intentionally oblique. Granted, I’m glad the movie didn’t flashback to the moment of impact in Afghanistan, but much that could be more fascinating is left to the imagination.
Brian Tyree Henry’s charisma can only take a stale story so far. He saves the picture for what it’s worth, earning Causeway a worthy watch if you have an Apple TV subscription and want to see a calming drama that ends with a glimmer of hope.
Causeway was seen in conjunction with The Chicago International Film Festival. It will be available to stream on Apple TV+ November 4