It’s unclear if Apple, a major player in the technology world but relatively new in film production, has any idea what to do with the movies it releases.
After making a big splash last year with their surprise Best Picture Oscar winner CODA, the up-and-coming movie studio had several anticipated titles on their slate over the next 18 months but has struggled to choose which, if any, of these films are worth a large theatrical release or even promotion beyond dumping onto its Apple TV+ streaming service to little fanfare.
Unfortunately, the latter is the case for Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence’s first real foray back into dramatic work in many years with the somber independent drama Causeway, the feature film debut for director Lila Neugebauer.
With Lawrence at her best since an Oscar win in Silver Linings Playbook or perhaps even further back to her debut in Winter’s Bone, there’s absolutely no reason why Causeway shouldn’t be a film at the front of moviegoers’ minds this holiday season and yet somehow a film of this quality just trickles out with little notice.
Causeway, which debuted on Apple TV+ on Friday after a small theatrical release, stars Lawrence as Lynsey, a member of the Army Corps of Engineers returning home to New Orleans to face a grim reality after her unit was decimated by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
Neugebauer’s film is poignant and small in scope with few characters and a limited world to build around, which keeps the focus almost entirely on Lawrence’s stoic and layered performance throughout.
It’s a stripped-down turn from the Oscar winner who really feels like she’s getting back to her independent acting roots after toiling away for the better part of a decade in franchise and blockbuster films.
Lawrence’s commitment to Lynsey’s pain, both in the emotional and physical level, is real and the awkward lack of chemistry Lawrence has with every other character on screen is palpable yet intentional. It’s meant to display Lynsey’s psychological fragility but in a larger sense, the constate state of malaise and unease returning soldiers face when they come home only to feel the pull back to the front lines as quickly as possible.
It’s a considered performance very reminiscent of turns like Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker or Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, although increasingly more subtle and nuanced as Lawrence and Neugebauer take Causeway at a much smaller scale to really individualize Lynsey’s struggles.
While Causeway fully encircles Lawrence’s Lynsey, it’s not the only astonishing performance in the film. Brian Tyree Henry, a veteran character actor known for the FX television show Atlanta and Barry Jenkins’ drama If Beale Street Could Talk, does his best work since Beale Street as James, an auto mechanic Lynsey befriends upon her return home.
While at first, the unlikelihood of their friendship confounds audiences, it’s when the film reveals itself and James opens up about his own past that Causeway truly comes alive to allow both phenomenal performers to fully engage with the weight of the drama and mine the emotional depths within.
As is often the cast with these tiny, considered independent films, Causeway is boosted by incredible yet unobtrusive cinematography from Diego Garcia that really places Lawrence and Henry at the center of the frame while making the city of New Orleans a larger character. There is a lot of beauty within smaller moments simply watching Lynsey clean relatively abandoned pools or seemingly innocuous scenes of dialogue bathed in bright sunlight or deep, rich nighttime black all while perfectly underscored by composer Alex Somers.
It’s unfortunate that Causeway will likely have no chance at major awards consideration this fall given Apple’s inconsistency in their film promotion though both main actors deserve acclaim and will likely have strong showings among critics’ groups and at the Film Independent Spirit Awards early next year.
Certainly one of the year’s most underseen dramas, Causeway is a film that audiences will appreciate if they are able to live quietly within the moments that Neugebauer provides and focus on the nuance of the acting within while not being distracted during a home viewing experience.