Aside from an awkward third act, Causeway works well as an exploration of trying to live in the present while being rocked by trauma in the past.
We all live in the looming shadows of our past. The actions or mistakes we make today shape our tomorrow. This is as true for the poorest beggar as it is for the mightiest king, and dam Protagonist Lynsey (Jennifer Lawrence) is no exception. A former soldier in the Middle East, she returned to New Orleans after suffering a brain injury. The following film’s emphasis on coping with the long-term effects of trauma is implicitly enforced dam starting not with a grisly accident overseas, but rather with a shocked Lynsey waiting for a cab in America.
As a result of her injuries, Lynsey has had to undergo physical therapy and continues to cope with newfound difficulties in her daily life, such as: B. the struggle to hold objects. Being trapped in New Orleans with her mother, Gloria (Linda Emond), is a silent nightmare, although a newfound friendship with mechanic James (Brian Tyree Henry) has provided some moments of joy. Lynsey just wants to go back to the Middle East and continue her life as a soldier like nothing ever happened. But, as she begins to discover, learning to live with these types of injuries and traumas is not an overnight experience.
Brought to life by director Lila Neugebauer and a screenplay by Elizabeth Sanders, Luke Goebel and Ottessa Moshfegh, dam is a quiet drama that often takes on an observational quality in its restrained filmmaking. Much of this film’s screen time is spent watching Lynsey navigate her part-time job cleaning pools, or her and James chilling out together at various New Orleans hangouts. Though a massive life-changing event sets its plot in motion, dam is a story about the tiny moments of existence.
This quiet direction for the story mostly suits this character and her world well. It’s a welcome sight to see a film about a soldier struggling with trauma and other psychological issues that isn’t a melodrama that dwells constantly on extreme displays of distress. This is far from smut porn, and that allows Lynsey to feel fleshed out and alive as a character. Also all the more resonant are the instances when she has trouble navigating everyday life, such as her sudden inability to hold a snow cone. These themes feel appropriately weighty as they are not the only defining element dam.
The less-is-more approach also works well in the visual terms that convey Lynsey’s lingering resentment at being back at her childhood home. While the exterior settings of New Orleans are painted with lots of bright colors, Lynsey’s abode is mainly shrouded in dark and menacing shadows. Streaks of outside light shine as bright as the sun in this home trapped in the darkness of the past. While much of dam Clinging to naturalistic qualities in his cinematography, the slightly more stylized use of lighting here is a vivid way of conveying Lynsey’s inner moodiness.
While these memorable touches draw attention, the two performs by dam keep your interest up. In her first indie film performance in years, Jennifer Lawrence proves she’s never failed to play calmer souls. The non-dialogue sections of dam Let Lawrence stand out in her body language and facial expressions, while the imperfect details in her lyrics beautifully remind the viewer that Lynsey is a flesh-and-blood human being. As for Brian Tyree Henry, here he delivers another knockout role very similar to his memorable work If Beale Street could talkHe uses his gift for the long gaze to communicate years of pent-up agony.
During the performances in dam great, the film is unfortunately less than the sum of its best parts. Most ominous of its shortcomings is the script’s tendency in the final 30 minutes to gravitate toward more conventional forms of drama. The dynamic between characters is suddenly broken in the way you’d expect from a typical movie moving into its third act. A notable aspect of Lynsey’s psychological struggles also returns awkwardly to the forefront of the narrative, though absent from the rest of dam beyond its opening scenes. Suddenly, Lynsey’s inner turmoil is being used to follow narrative conventions rather than explore them in a naturalistic way.
dam has worked so well up to this point that it’s only been about people chatting on a park bench after dark, or tense interactions between Lynsey and Dr. Lucas (Stephen McKinley Henderson). This story has proven so interesting because it’s about people navigating life while trauma hangs silently over their heads like a foreboding rain cloud. Sticking to conventional storytelling standards and using Lynsey’s post-traumatic psychological issues to create sudden bursts of conflict, it all feels too mechanical.
Combine all of that with an awkward resolution of a key character arc for Lynsey off-screen and dam ends undeniably on a sour note. Before that, however, the emphasis on subtlety and two great leads make for a compelling, if not transcendent, piece of filmmaking. The production works best in its quiet moments, when Lawrence and Henry are adept at portraying people grappling with how to build fulfilling lives in the shadows of traumatic pasts. We are all shaped by the events of yesterday, but as dam shows, the universality of this experience does not make it any easier to bear.
Causeway premieres November 3 on Apple TV+.