Chappaquiddick (M)

In a Word: Disturbing

Chappaquiddick

Australian Jason Clarke plays Ted Kennedy and Kate Mara plays Mary Jo Kopechne in Chappaquiddick. 

 

"At its heart, Chappaquiddick wrestles with ideas of entitlement and fame, political power and cover-ups, of how far some might go in protecting a political name - ostensibly, of course, for the greater good. They're issues which certainly still have resonance in the political climate of today."

A well made snapshot of a notorious incident which took place in the summer of 1969, Chappaquiddick is a narrowly focused film focused on events which would overshadow US Senator Ted Kennedy for the rest of his life and, certainly according to the film, ensure the youngest brother of JFK would never become president.

The film tells the story of the mysterious death of Mary Jo Kopechne who had been among a number of women attending a reunion party for former staffs of the assassinated Robert Kennedy which was hosted by his younger brother and senator, Ted Kennedy, on the Massachusetts island of Chappaquiddick.

Late in the evening Mary Jo fatefully gets into a car driven by Senator Kennedy, grappling with life in the shadow of his three dead brothers, and in the early hours of the next morning, he runs off a bridge, flipping the vehicle upside down. While Kennedy manages to escape the submerged vehicle, Kopeckne does not, and, as the film tells us, it's an incredible nine hours later when he formally reports the incident.

We're only a few minutes into the film when the accident occurs. Director John Curran has placed the focus of the movie on the immediate aftermath of the accident - in particular, Kennedy's odd response to the crash and how he and his team of minders immediately looked to ensure the protection of the Kennedy brand.

There's enough depth to the story that even those passingly familiar with the events will find it of interest and enough questions left unanswered to, at the film's end, still leave one wondering exactly what happened and why Kennedy, who went on to have a much-lauded career in the US Senate, responded in the way that he did.

Australian Jason Clarke does a convincing job of portraying Kennedy during these momentous hours and he's ably supported by Ed Helms, who plays his cousin Joseph "Joe'll fix it" Gargan. The rest of the cast, including Kate Mara as Mary Jo and Bruce Dern as Kennedy's stroke-affected father Joseph, put in strong performances but is Clarke and Helms who really make this film compelling viewing - Clarke as the overlooked fourth son who all too readily leaps in to the role of victim as he grapples with how to respond to the crisis and Helms as his right-hand man who is forced to confront his own conscience in how far he's willing to go for his cousin.

It should be pointed out that the film has reportedly been criticised by Kennedy supporters for failing to show the extent of Ted's remorse over the incident - there's only glimpses of it here - and it's fair to say that Kennedy doesn't come out of this film, a blend of fact and speculation, looking too good. Yet Curran doesn't make the mistake of over-editorialising here, allowing mostly for events to simply speak for themselves.

At its heart, Chappaquiddick wrestles with ideas of entitlement and fame, political power and cover-ups, of how far some might go in protecting a political name - ostensibly, of course, for the greater good. They're issues which certainly still have resonance in the political climate of today.