Causeway – Acting Bonus with Frugal Script and Directing (2.5*)

Causeway has some terrific acting but the script and direction just don’t cut it. (2.5*)

Causeway – Snapshot

Causeway showcases terrific acting from Jennnifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry in a story of two wounded people who manage to find something they need in each other.  But the film’s weaknesses in script and direction are too great to recommend it. (2.5*) 

Where to Watch:

Stream: Apple TV+

Rent: (Nowhere)

Causeway – The Oscar Buzz 

Oscar Nominations:

Supporting Actor (Brian Tyree Henry)

Causeway received a single major nomination for Henry playing a major supporting role as James, a man who befriends Lawrence’s character, Lynsey.  His performance was perfectly nuanced capturing how someone, himself hurt, could recognize and respond to pain in another. 

Having now seen all the films nominated in this category, I can say that Henry probably should have won the Supporting Actor Oscar.  He manages a much subtler and difficult role than Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once, who won the Oscar.  Yes, Judd Hirsch delivered a couple of terrific spiels in The Fabelmans, but was only on screen for a small percentage of the movie, unlike Henry who was clearly working for at least half the film.  Similarly, Keoghan in The Banshees of Inisherin delivered a delicious performance, but it too was brief.  Gleeson, also in Banshees…, had a much bigger role but his character didn’t do a whole lot of changing and we didn’t get much insight into what made him do what he did.  Bottom line, Henry displayed empathy and subtlety in a complicated performance and probably should have taken the prize.

Production Designer Jack Fisk wasn’t nominated for his work in this film, but he did receive two earlier nominations for The Revenant (15) and There Will be Blood (07).  And, of course, Jennifer Lawrence received earlier nominations for leading actress in both Winter’s Bone (10) and Joy (15).

Causeway – The Movie’s Family Tree

The Following Movies Share Talent with This One (and if you like these films, you might like this one):

Hale County This Morning This Evening (19): Composer (Somers)

The Tragedy of Macbeth (21); The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (18): Editor (Johnston)

Winter’s Bone (10)/Silver Linings Playbook (12)/The Hunger Games (12-15)/American Hustle (13)/Joy (15)/Don’t Look Up (21): Acting (Lawrence)

If Beale Street Could Talk (18)/Joker (19): Acting (Henry)

Causeway was produced by and featured Jennifer Lawrence.  But while I’ve seen some of the work of other people involved in this film, there is no evidence that this is a work from a seasoned team.  While I understand the director, Lila Neugebauer, has an established record in directing theater productions on a stage, this is her first feature film.  Similarly, this is the first movie screenplay product from the writing team (Moshfegh, Goebel, and Sanders).  Unfortunately their lack of movie experience shows – the actors do great work delivering their underwritten lines and seem to be almost directing themselves.  In short, the good things in this movie are coming primarily from the two main actors, Lawrence and Henry.

Causeway – What Others Think

Causeway didn’t do well with either the viewing public or the critics.  Audiences ranked it near the bottom of this year’s 25 general interest films and 34th out of all 39.  And that’s based on more than 22,000 ratings.

Critics viewed it a little better ranking it just below the middle of the pack.  Almost every reviewer was thrilled with the performances of Lawrence and Henry.  Many of them compared Lawrence as Lynsey in Causeway to her breakout performance in Winter’s Bone.  Christy Lemire (RogerEbert ) remarked that she “returns to the kind of raw, understated performance that put her on the map…(with) all the naturalism and authenticity …on display again.”  Marya E. Gates (RogerEbert ) noted that Henry “is simply electric. His easy charm fills the screen and the cadence with which he talks takes you off-guard.”  Gates also remarked on how their body language and chemistry “draws you in.”  A.O. Scott (New York Times ) found the pleasures of the movie “come from watching Lawrence and her co-star trading quiet, insightful bits of acting.” 

But that’s about all that’s good here.  Scott goes on to  say “the movie isn’t quite sure what to do with them….and …its plot overly diagrammed and the characters inadequately fleshed out.”  Phillip Concannon (Sight&Sound ) summed it all up “…the film falls short of reaching the emotional heart of the story.”  In short, great acting, but not a very good movie.

Causeway – Special Mention

IED’s and Female Soldier Injuries – Lynsey, as you will learn in the first few minutes of the movie, is a soldier who was sent home from Afghanistan after suffering a traumatic encounter with a roadside IED.  Although she did not suffer any obvious bodily injuries, her brain absorbed serious shock waves and the physical and emotional damage was significant enough to get her sent back home for extensive medical care.  That got me thinking about women in the armed forces and their exposure to IEDs.

First, let’s look at the overall picture of women in the armed forces. Women are not yet fully deployed in front-line combat situations in the U.S. armed forces, however since 1994, when Bill Clinton rescinded the “Risk Rule”, women are allowed to engage in combat in all but direct (presumably hand-to-hand) combat roles.  (I seem to recall that there have been women in Special Forces teams, and a woman completed Navy Seal training and was accepted, but for unknown reasons is no longer on that team). Even so, women  are now only 20% of all officers and 16% of the total US force.

Now for the IED side. IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices) are a relatively new kind of weapon.  As best I can tell, the people who classify these kinds of things consider an IED as an explosive device that was built and deployed by non-state actors.  Yeah that seems a little weird.  But it basically means that things like bombs, grenades, mortars used by military forces around the world are not IED’s.  But if a terrorist, rebel, or some other person not affiliated with a state or nation sanctioned armed force develops an explosive device and uses it against some force they oppose, then that becomes an IED.  What makes it “improvised” is that it wasn’t built by some armament company but rather by someone sitting around their kitchen table.  Although I’m guessing homemade bombs have been around for some time, they really didn’t become a statistical thing until this century and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Over the last couple of decades several thousand soldiers have suffered IED related casualties (deaths or injuries).  Interestingly, the number of civilian IED casualties is several times greater.

Given female participation at least in combat support roles and the fact that IED incidents often occur in situations outside of actual combat, it isn’t surprising that women are suffering IED death and injury.   Although every case is always tragic, the numbers of female casualties remains a small percentage of male casualties.  In Operation Iraqi Freedom, for example, 627 women were wounded, while more than 31,000 men were.  Many of those casualties were from IED’s.

One interesting paper I read, and that is relevant to this movie, is the disproportionate deadliness of IED injuries in women as opposed to men.  Women might be less likely to sustain an IED injury, but they are, apparently twice as likely to die from their injuries as their male counterparts.  What makes that especially interesting is that females, in civilian settings, are typically more resilient than males in recovering from bodily injury.  The researchers couldn’t explain those results so more research is needed.

Now, Lynsey doesn’t die in this movie.  And her wounds appeared to be more psychological than physical.  Nonetheless, female trauma from IEDs are a significant and growing problem in the US military as the nature of its engagements around the world changes.

Causeway – Michael’s Moments

Causeway is, really, a pretty simple movie and I don’t have much more to say beyond what has already been said.  The overall story line had great potential – but especially the ending is perfunctory and unsatisfying.  Lawrence and Henry both do a terrific job of acting and their chemistry together is good.  But it is hard not to feel that these two actors are sort of bursting at the seams trying to get out of the confines given them by a poorly developed script and insufficient feeling from the director.  There is a great movie with these two actors, but this isn’t it. (2.5*)

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