Politics is a fickle business, and no one knew how to be successful in that business more than the Kennedys, but that kind of prosperity came with a hefty price. While Jack was taken away in one of the most tragic moments in United States history, Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) paid an amount that could never equate. John Curran provides a lens to a story that examines the power of one family's loyalty and how that undying loyalty can persuade others to assist in the most immoral of endeavors. As on July 18th, 1969 Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) was going for a late night drive with Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara), a campaign assistant for his brother Robert (I think), when after he made the wrong turn he reared off a peer, diving the car into the lake. Flipping over on its roof, the vehicle began to submerge and fill with water. Ted (Jason Clarke) was able to spring free, but after many unsuccessful efforts, he was unable to free Mary Jo (Kate Mara) from her seat as she began to drown.
Suffering from a concussion, the story becomes fuzzy, but Curran takes that self-written statement from the actual incident and provides a spin on it that feels far more authentic. Providing an in-depth look at a man’s willingness to preserve himself and his family’s dynasty over all things. As instead of rearing off the pear by accident, he was intoxicated. Instead of attempting to save her, he swam to the shore and listened to her drown, never lifting a finger to rescue her. He refuses to call the police, not because of a concussion, but because he needs to figure out the best way to handle this as Curran sheds light on a case that insights the ideas of the con artistry of politics and provides context to the subjectivity of American politics.
First-time writers, Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, put together a screenplay that struggles to get out of the box in more than one area. Though the messages hit home, they’re not resounding with impact. Instead, they jolt into the audience like a nerf bullet. Colliding but in the most delicate of ways. It seems Curran and his writers were afraid to shout their beliefs; they’d rather whisper them to the audience so that only the most attentive of viewers will notice. Their messages are worth seeing though, as Curran provides a story that showcases the context of subjective politics in which we, as Americans, will choose to believe whatever we want. Despite what facts are presented, we will decide what feels right instead of what seems right. “Chappaquiddick” examines that theme exceptionally, one of the few things that this story does better than most.
The first act is meandering and stumbling, as the story doesn’t get put into full effect until the case starts to take place. Once the authorities discover the car, “Chappaquiddick” jumps from neutral into drive and begins to seep with thrill and excitement. The case unravels and the acting begins to influx with purpose as Jason Clarke takes charge of the former Senator. Breaking onto the screen with that Kennedy accent that evokes legitimacy and emotion, as this is a man attempting to fill shoes that are too big for his feet. Trying to wear the clown-sized shoes, Ted (Jason Clarke) runs from an excuse to another excuse and attempts to fabricate a story that will save his seat in the Senate.
Luckily the proverbial pan is placed from high to medium heat as Apollo 11’s historic mission provided a break in attention because human-history was being made, so who cares about some dead girl from “Chappaquiddick” right?
Thankfully, journalists remained steady back then, as they do now, but their hard work pays off to no avail. As this story became circulated and forgotten throughout history and Ted (Jason Clarke) went on to run for president in 1980, he didn’t make it past the Democratic nomination, luckily. I can’t say whether the man was guilty or not based off of this one film, but I can say that the lack of attention given to the victim is worthy of a guilty verdict being charged to John Curran.
As to why our attention is focused far more on Joey (Ed Helms) than the actual victim, who Curran suggests was murdered by the former senator, is quite insulting when placing the pieces of the film back together in your head after the credits roll. Pushed into the foreground and used more as a plot device than anything else, Mary Jo (Kate Mara) is never given her time in the spotlight and after all this time, she still doesn’t get her due.
Curran’s direction is satisfactory, though there is a multitude of close-ups that give some extra oomph to the cinematography, providing an intimate glimpse at the Kennedy mystique. I wish that same oomph was shared in the screenplay. The cast is fine, and Clark brings Ted back to life, almost single-handedly, but the screenplay meanders and never confidently injects it's message to the audience. Needing some of that Kennedy juice, “Chappaquiddick” never become quite more than a well-acted and satisfactorily directed political objection of a film. I guess someone shouted sustained during mid-production so that “Chappaquiddick” wouldn’t seem as if it was providing differing thoughts on the current socio-political climate. God forbid that happens, right?