Chappaquiddick, from Director John Curran, tells the story of how Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) survived a scandal involving drunk-driving, obstruction of justice, and a dead girl.
The girl was Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara), who had worked on Bobby Kennedy’s ill-fated presidential bid and was considering joining Ted’s own budding campaign. The film paints a portrait of a flawed man, who had no idea where his life was really going or what he was meant for and was just going along as the surviving son of the storied Kennedy family, always trying to live up to the expectations of father Joe Kennedy (Bruce Dern).
Featuring a powerhouse cast, the film is a solid drama that will have you chuckling at times at how inept some elements of the cover-up are. Though Kennedy did some great things during his time in the Senate, it’s hard to stomach that he walked away from this tragedy almost completely unscathed. The film sticks to the known facts and doesn’t really postulate whether Kennedy and Kopechne were having an affair or not or if this was actually a murder instead of a horrible accident handled in the poorest way possible. So, there are no wild theories here, just a solidly told story with the facts as we know them today. No matter what your political affiliation, you’ll be floored at the naked power that the Kennedys wielded. I have to admit, even knowing the basics of what had happened at Chappaquiddick, seeing it all play out on the screen makes it difficult to see Senator Kennedy the same way ever again. It would have been fascinating to see what his reaction might have been had this movie been released while he was still living.
Clarke does a great job as Kennedy. He perfectly captures the fear that Kennedy has while trying to salvage his fledgling legacy and the cool resolve he has at the end of the film is chilling. Ed Helms and Jim Gaffigan both turn in surprising turns as Joey Gargan, a Kennedy cousin and Ted’s lawyer, and U.S. Attorney Markham, a friend of the family, respectively. I’m so used to seeing these two in comedic roles, that it was nice to see them in a more dramatic setting. Mara does a nice job as Mary Jo, but I would have liked a little more from her character. The events of the film do not really allow her a lot of screen time. I also enjoyed Clancy Brown as Robert McNamara, who was called in as part of a team to help spin the story Teddy’s way. Finally, Bruce Dern gives a powerful performance without many words at all as a post-stroke Joseph Kennedy.
Overall, I enjoyed Chappaquiddick. It’s not a flashy film, but it tells a compelling story and shows the frightening reach of power in both politics and money.