Chappaquiddick tells the story of Ted Kennedy’s involvement in a car accident that killed staff member Mary Jo Kopechne. After a night of heavy drinking at party, Kennedy and Kopechne leave in Kennedy’s car, soon overturning the vehicle in a lake in Chappaquiddick. In the moments that immediately followed, it brings to question Kennedy’s true motives in leaving behind Kopechne to remain inside the submerged vehicle.
With my parent’s growing up in the 60s, I had heard about this incident before, but there’s something truly haunting about seeing the events unfold on screen. We can only speculate as to what exactly happened in those moments following the car crash. Jason Clarke who plays the disgraced politician, depicts the events in which Kennedy leaves the scene and travels back to the party and eventually back to his hotel. Clarke, who’s best known for his movies such as Zero Dark Thirty, Lawless, and Mudbound, adds so much to the character of Kennedy. But it is the inner turmoil that Kennedy so called wrestles with in the film, that make up for a great performance from Clarke. In addition, Ed Helms, most known for his role in Andy in The Office, takes on the character of Joseph Gargan, Kennedy’s cousin and confidant through this ordeal. Helms, who is not one my favorite actors, gives a great caliber performance. Gargan pushes Kennedy to do the right thing. But Kennedy’s need for political power, and the continuation of his family’s name in the White House, begins to get the better of him. Kate Mara, who often delivers small powerful roles, has less than 30 minutes of screen time, but captures the viewers with her innocence.
The story of the events on July 18, 1969 are true, but as so many “based on true events” movies that have come before, we can never truly be positive at the actions taken by Kennedy and his staff. Chappaquiddick tells of Kennedy’s life shortly before the accident, leading up to the after effects and repercussion that followed. The relationship, though many believe was an affair, is never discussed in detail as to the extent of Kennedy and Kopechne’s relationship. But Kennedy is portrayed in the film as the runt of the littler, having been compared to his brothers his whole life. In a scene with Kennedy, his lawyers, and advisors, Kennedy remarks on something that he has to do. But the lawyers and advisors tell him not to do it. However, Kennedy had already done it. The advisors and lawyers break out into loud groans as the they cannot believe that Kennedy would do something so stupid.
I believe that if you’re familiar with this event, and even lived when the death of Kopechne flashed before through the airwaves and covered the newspapers, you may be a little more likely to be compelled to see this film. Or if you’re like my father, you could say that you lived through that time and that you don’t need to see that again. But in all seriousness, whether you cheer at the thought of Kennedy’s scandal being splashed up on the screens, or balk at the thought of an anti-Kennedy movie, it’s truly sad that a film like Chappaquiddick needs to be told in the first place, creating a fear in political power and corruption that knows no bounds.
Directed by: John Curran
Starring: Jason Clarke, Ed Helms, Jim Gaffigan, Kate Mara, and Bruce Dern