Cast: Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms, Bruce Dern
Director: John Curran
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: In the riveting suspense drama, CHAPPAQUIDDICK, the scandal and mysterious events surrounding the tragic drowning of a young woman, as Ted Kennedy drove his car off the infamous bridge, are revealed in the new movie starring Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy and Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne. Not only did this event take the life of an aspiring political strategist and Kennedy insider, but it ultimately changed the course of presidential history forever. Through true accounts, documented in the inquest from the investigation in 1969, director John Curran and writers Andrew Logan and Taylor Allen, intimately expose the broad reach of political power, the influence of America’s most celebrated family; and the vulnerability of Ted Kennedy, the youngest son, in the shadow of his family legacy.
If you were born in the 1990’s like me, you may know Ted Kennedy as the long-serving Senator from Massachusetts who championed for civil rights and government intervention. If you come from one of the generations from before my time, you may know him for his involvement in the Chappaquiddick incident which resulted in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. As someone who was not aware of this event, Chappaquiddick provided me with new insight into a man who I thought I had a fairly decent understanding of. While I question some of the motivation of the story, the direction of the film was clear and Clarke demonstrates incredible range in the lead role.
The film follows Senator Ted Kennedy (Clarke) as he deals with the aftermath of a car crash that left Mary Jo Kopechne (Mara) dead and the general public asking some tough questions. The Kennedy family had held an enormous amount of power during the 1960s, and many of his close family and advisors feared that this would highly impact Ted’s chances of becoming President. As the film develops, Ted must deal with the consequences of his decisions and figure out if he must do what is right for him and his family, or what is right for the people impacted by his actions. One of the main things that stood out to me was how accurate Clarke’s portrayal of Ted was. I did not realize how similar the two look, which contributed to the film realistic feeling, but Clarke’s accent was pretty spot-on. Boston accents are incredibly hard for most actors as they do not occur naturally, and the fact that Clarke can nail the softer Kennedy accent while being from Australia makes to feat all that more impressive. Both of the sides trying to lead Ted to do what they believe is right are led by decent performances where Ted’s father Joseph Sr. (Dern) tries to convince Ted to do whatever it takes to stay in power while Ted’s cousin Joe Gargan (Helms) tries to sway Ted to do what is morally right. Dern is truly convincing as Joseph Kennedy Sr. in his final days and wants the Kennedy name and power to live on through his last living son. While Helms is solid as the voice of reason, his performance falls into the background in a stacked cast. He does not do anything wrong, it is more so that the people around him act on a level that he never reached on this film. My one main question after seeing Chappaquiddick is how much involvement did the real Gargan have in the making of this movie. Gargan is one of the few people left from this incident that was alive during this movie’s production, and I wonder if he twisted events to make himself look better than what happened. The end credits said that Gargan cut off contact with the Kennedy family after this incident, so there is a strong possibility he still had resentment towards them for the way they handled it. The film does not show Ted in a positive light at all, and I question if Gargan had something to do with it. Outside of that, this was a rather by the books historical drama. It did not do anything particularly unique or spectacular, but the narrative was straightforward and easy to follow. It is a compelling story that displays the presence of status and power in our society that is hauntingly accurate o what powerful people will do to stay in power.
Overall, this is the type of movie that was bound to made due to the mystery surrounding the subject matter, and it did what it was supposed to do from a storytelling perspective. Clarke may be the best casting choice for a historical figure in recent years. He does an incredible job of making us feel like we are there in Chappaquiddick for these events. The film goes from moments of sensitivity and feeling sorry for a man who carries the weight of his whole family with him everyday, to a man whose ego is so large that he refuses to own his mistakes and make the right decision. While Ted might have had trouble making a decision, I had no trouble enjoying this film without any issues.
Overall Score: 7/10