Chappaquiddick (2017)

  • Time: 107 min
  • Genre: Biography | Crime | Drama
  • Director: John Curran
  • Cast: Kate Mara, Jason Clarke, Ed Helms, Clancy Brown


Ted Kennedy’s life and political career become derailed in the aftermath of a fatal car accident in 1969 that claims the life of a young campaign strategist, Mary Jo Kopechne.


  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆½ out of 5 stars)

    GRADE: B+


    IN BRIEF: An riveting factual retelling of a political scandal and cover-up that changed the life of one man and a nation.
    JIM’S REVIEW: One man remained above the law. One nation watched in shock and disbelief as the event unfolded. One woman dead. Such is the scandal and cover-up of Senator Edward “Teddy” Kennedy and his ill-fated accident that changed his life and took the life of campaign worker, Mary Jo Kopechine. Chappaquiddick, John Curran’s fine retelling of true events shows those days in 1969 when the young inebriated senator made that dire mistake, driving off a bridge and leaving a friend to slowly drown in a slightly submerged car. His decision lacked courage and integrity which cost him a political future to become America’s once and future president. But our nation does love the rise and fall of the rich and famous…and their ultimate comeback.

    Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan create a timeline that shows the unscrupulous damage control crafted by powerful men to protect their own, with little regard for the true victim. The script focuses on six days, from the fatal crash to the senator’s televised plea to a country to forgive him his trespasses, ending in actual footage from real people who commented most positively on his “forced” confession. To the film’s credit, it does not shy away from Kennedy’s caddish behavior, the numerous illegal acts, and exposes the “spin” (which is ever prevalent today, while being a rarity back then). Their narrative could use more backstory to give more substance to the possible relationship of the politician and his victim. It only hints at that aspect and is a tad unjust to Ms. Kopechine’s character by making her an incomplete pawn rather than a fully dimensional character. Kate Mara plays her very well and one wishes more screen time was spent in flashbacks about her character and motives.

    However, the majority of the film is a showcase for Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy. It is an excellent performance of a troubled and desperate man at terms with his own weaknesses. Mr. Clarke is a forceful presence and fully captures the Massachusetts senator’s persona. (It is deserving of an Oscar nomination, although it will surely be forgotten due to the film’s early release.) Also giving excellent support are Ed Helms as his close ally and conscience, Joe Gargan, Clancy Brown as Robert MacNamara, Taylor Nichols as Ted Sorensen, and Bruce Dern as the cruel patriarch, Joseph Kennedy. (The scene between father and son is brutal to watch, and Mr. Dern conveys his disappointment and personal disgust with barely a word as Mr. Clarke searches for any ounce of compassion and tenderness.) Rounding out the strong ensemble are Jim Gaffigan and Olivia Thirlby.

    Mr. Curran directs with a solid vision and effectively jumps back to the incident to remind his audience of the tragedy of a human life cut short countering with the political mechanisms of a political life saved at all cost. That Senator Kennedy went on to continue a healthy career and eluded any jail time, never being convicted of manslaughter seems an odd turn of events in this enthralling and disturbing drama. But truth is stranger than fiction and Chappaquiddick is an honest depiction of dishonest times. It is a movie definitely worth viewing.

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  • As Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) prepares to do his career-saving TV address, the slightly upward shot of his shadowed jowels and flattened hair make him look like Donald Trump. That clear echo provides this film’s main thrust.
    Like any responsible history film, it’s about Now as much as about Then. The subject is the essential corruption of American federal politics on both sides of the house, then as now, Democrats as well as Republicans.
    In anatomizing the end of the Kennedy glory years, director John Curran suggests the depressing spiral from the end of Kennedy idealism to the present corruption. We’re used to thinking of those Dems and our GOP as antithetical. This film equates them.
    The TV shots of John Kennedy and the moon landing remind us of when America was truly great — hopeful, ambitious, a global leader and a beacon of democracy. But the film’s main thrust exposes that myth.
    The Kennedy machine that marshals around Ted here is as unscrupulous, lying and destructive as what depresses us in today’s news. We watch the disintegration of the Kennedy myth and character.
    Hence Teddy’s lack of any genuine moral compass — especially when he professes to have one. When he abandons his responsible plan to resign he confirms our sense of American politics as power-hungry, self-serving and fraudulent.
    This Kennedy and Trump have something else in common — their insatiable need to impress an intractable father. Both weakling sons project a fake swagger.
    Womanizing is but one aspect of their ersatz manliness. Mainly they need to convince everyone — especially their fathers — that they are “great.” This is how the Kennedy years and the Trump year form a continuum here not a contrast. Joe Kennedy’s failure of a son seems to lead directly down the rabbit hole to Trump. Ted’s dead-eyed Joan is an echo of Melania.
    Both showmen also pretend to the common touch, highjacking the spirit of populism to grab power for their own use. Ted’s “family” speech to his Boiler Room girls leads to the TV interviews in which his Massachusetts voters buy his TV “Act” and resolve to re-elect him.
    The film reminds us that he failed to win the presidential nomination but became the fourth longest-serving American senator.
    What I missed was a closing statement summarizing the remarkable career and achievements The Lion of Congress went on to make. But that would have been my movie not Curran’s. His present enterprise is not as optimistic as my conclusion would have been. Rather than rationalize Ted’s amorality he prefers to leave the film as an exposure of systemic fraudulence and corruption in federal politics.

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