Category Archives: Archived Movies


Producers: Ryan Cunningham, Evan Parter, Sam Bisbee, Theodora Dunlap and Caddy Vanasirikul   Director: Amy Rice   Screenplay: Evan Parter   Cast: Brian Cox, Jodie Turner-Smith, Luke Kirby, Ann Dowd, John Cena, Stephen Lang, Willie C. Carpenter, Kecia Lewis, Victor Slezak, Timothy Busfield, Margaret Odette, Frederick Weller, Andrew Richardson, Michael Gandolfini, Alysia Reiner and Damian Young   Distributor: Peacock

Grade: D

Aching to emulate classic political thrillers like “All the President’s Men” and “Three Days of the Condor,” documentarian Amy Rice’s “The Independent” instead proves as bland and boring a tale of Washington skullduggery as the third-party candidate it posits as shaking up a presidential race situated in a vaguely 2024-ish national environment.

The premise is that President Archer (Victor Slezak, looking properly forlorn), the colorless Joe Biden-ish Democratic candidate, is being opposed by Republican Senator Patricia Turnbull (Ann Dowd at her cranky best) of Tennessee, a gruff old pro who would become the first female chief executive.  But Nate Sterling (John Cena, in utterly over his head), an Olympic decathlon gold medalist and author of a supposedly earth-shaking commonsensical tome called “A Declaration of Independence,” shakes things up by entering the race.

Despite the general opinion among pundits that anyone bucking the two-party monopoly is doomed to fail, Sterling’s campaign takes off, despite the fact that from what we see of his rallies, he offers nothing but the most formulaic recitations of the country’s problems and homey assurances that he’ll take them on when establishment candidates on both sides of the divide will just maintain the corrupt status quo.

Looking on from the press room of the Washington Chronicle, a stand-in, it seems, for the Post, is principled newbie reporter Eli James (Jodie Turner-Smith, surprisingly pallid), whose pitches for exposés on issues like reduced school funding in West Virginia are shot down by grouchy editor Gordon White (Stephen Lang, overplaying at his worst), whose main concerns are circulation and budget cuts in an age in which the ever-changing ownership of newspapers and obsession over the bottom line threaten print journalism’s very existence.

But Nick Booker (Brian Cox, content to coast on his gruff shtick), the paper’s crown jewel whose commentary column is legendary, sees potential in Eli, and after a dinner talk in which he reveals his intention to retire, offers her a job as his assistant during the final months of his tenure.  He represents the old school virtues of fact-based integrity and honesty in an increasingly demeaning media environment, an old dinosaur willing to take on sacred cows without fear or favor, so long as his methods stat within the bounds of propriety.  Naturally Eli jumps at the chance to work with him.

And she has a potentially big story to work on: a possible finance scam involving siphoning money from lottery winnings and transferring them into a PAC.  Eli suspects that it’s designed to benefit Trumbull’s campaign, though Booker, who’s known her for years, doubts that—and it turns out he’s right.  Where the dough might really be going is complicated by the fact that Eli’s boyfriend Lucas (Luke Kirby, nondescript) is a major advisor to Sterling.

And Eli is caught in more domestic turmoil, since her father Hal (Willie C. Carpenter), who’s nurtured her dreams and principles, suddenly announces that he has cancer—and she and her mother Lynn (Kecia Lewis) must see to his needs as best they can.

This is the sort of stuff that needs the snap, crackle and pop dialogue spin of an Aaron Sorkin, but what first-time scripter Evan Parter provides is little more than dreary boilerplate.  Characters constantly declaim the most obvious banalities, whether hysterically high-minded or smarmily cynical.  (Sterling’s speeches wouldn’t pass muster in a high school election, especially as delivered monotonously by Cena, and Cox appears genuinely embarrassed by some of his lines, though he speaks them without the wink he might have added.)  As Eli and Booker plod through accounts and records to determine who’s scamming the system, your eyes are likely to glaze over.  And the play on the title at the close is puerile.

That’s because the action also needs the zip that somebody like Sorkin—or, in the best cases scenario, an Alan J. Pakula—would have brought to it.  Rice certainly doesn’t.  The pacing she and editor Gershon Hinkson have chosen is turgid, as if they believed that the audience was so slow that it couldn’t follow the would-be surprises of the narrative unless they were doled out in heavy-handed italics.

Nor does the film look good.  Nick Francone’s production design is drab, probably reflecting a modest budget as much as the fact that it was shot in New York City rather than D.C., and David Johnson’s cinematography is utterly prosaic.  Jessica Rose Weiss’ score is instantly forgettable.

It’s amazing to note that Parter’s script was held in high regard by the folks who vote on the Blacklist, that famous assemblage of unproduced screenplays deemed worthy of note by its contributors.  Given yet another example of a past listing that’s proven a real disappointment on the screen, we should replace “famous” with “infamous” in describing what once seemed a noble effort to get good writing recognized.                       


Producers: Jennifer Lawrence and Justin Ciarrocchi   Director: Lila Neugebauer   Screenplay: Ottessa Moshfegh, Luke Goebel and Elizabeth Sanders   Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry, Linda Emond, Jayne Houdyshell, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Russell Harvard, Fred Weller, Sean Carvajal, Will Pullen, Joshua Hull and Neal Huff   Distributor: A24/Apple+

Grade: C+

Jennifer Lawrence has taken a breather recently—since “Red Sparrow” in 2018, she’s appeared only in Adam McKay’s star-studded, heavy-handed political satire “Don’t Look Up”—and her return to the screen is a much more intimate, soft-grained affair.  She plays Lynsey, a soldier seriously wounded in the Afghanistan war who, like Channing Tatum’s Briggs in “Dog,” is determined to be medically certified as ready to go back to the battlefield.

For Lynsey, an army engineer who was the victim of an IED, that first means enduring months of residence with a gentle caregiver named Sarah (Jayne Houdyshell), grueling physical therapy to recover the use of her limbs, and continuing treatment by Dr. Lucas (Stephen McKinley Henderson), a physician as concerned with her mental state as her physical rehabilitation and very precise in prescribing meds to address her continuing symptoms.

It also means returning to New Orleans and trying to reconnect with her mother Gloria (Linda Emond), an office worker with a very active social calendar and an attitude toward her daughter that only sporadically turns from businesslike to garrulously affectionate.  Lynsey will also have to visit her brother Justin (Russell Harvard) in prison—a meeting that turns out to be surprisingly poignant, because of a detail revealed only at the last moment—but that reunion comes very late in her (perhaps temporary) return to civilian life.

The most important relationship she has, however, turns out to be an accidental one—with James (Brian Tyree Henry), a big, easygoing mechanic she meets when her old truck breaks down on her way to the job she’s secured as a pool cleaner.  He takes the truck into his shop and gives her a ride home, during which they develop a pleasant rapport.  That’s just the beginning of what can be called a beautiful friendship.

James, as it happens, is suffering from a traumatic experience too—a car crash in which he lost a leg, and something even more precious to him.  Now he lives alone in a big old house and, as they get to know one another better, invites her to move in—not for romance, but simple companionship. 

It’s the connection that develops between Lynsey and James that’s the emotional center of “Causeway.”  You might not be surprised to learn that it proves to be, after some false starts and stops, what saves them from the effects of not just the lingering pain of their physical injuries but the emotional scars their experiences left.  Lawrence is a mite recessive beside the more ostentatious Henry, but the two stars play their scenes together in a gentle, understated manner that can be halting but at least keeps the film from stumbling into maudlin melodrama.

Neophyte Lila Neugebauer’s direction is prosaic, but a few other performances are also noteworthy.  Emond doesn’t hold back as Gloria and Harvard makes the most of his single scene as Justin, while both   Houdyshell and Henderson bring a sense of professional concern to the medical professionals.  The rest of the supporting cast have little to do, but do it well enough.  The look of the film is pretty pallid.   Jack Fisk’s production design is merely functional—no New Orleans glitz here—and Diego Garcia’s cinematography is band, with grays predominating.  The editing by Robert Frazen and Lucian Johnston lets the actors take their time, not always to the film’s benefit.

The result is a film that gives Lawrence the opportunity to return to her roots in independent filmmaking—she made her first mark, after all, in Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” in 2010.  “Causeway,” unfortunately, isn’t in the same league as that remarkable film.  Though its heart is in the right place, this picture doesn’t probe the psyches of its characters with sufficient depth to hit home as “Bone” did.