CHAPPAQUIDDICK, like the tragic accident/mystery it looks at, is somewhat of a surprise: instead of hoodwink history ala Bill O’Reilly, it actually is “fair & balanced” (normally a phrase to vomit by). As directed by John Curran, and written by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, their 2017 dramatization of the 1969 incident that took one life and warped another is neither whitewash or screed. As with the too-convenient murders of his brothers, the full story behind the inconvenient, self-inflicted character assassination of Ted Kennedy will always elude an impartial verdict. But however this sad story was spun, it sure doesn’t look good.
July 19th, 1969, on a small island near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Driving back from a party with friends and political office workers, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, 37, accidentally runs his car off a bridge into the water of a channel. He escapes. His passenger, 28-year-old secretary Mary Joe Kopechne, trapped in the upended vehicle, drowns. Over the following days, Kennedy tries to explain his puzzling—to say the least—behavior after the wreck, and his advisors huddle to handle the legal and political fallout.
Jason Clarke does reasonably well as the stricken Senator, though the portrait, since it’s focused on the incident, is by necessity restricted, with no room for any of the famous Kennedy charm to contest the battery of confusion, worry, indecision and guilt presented. Naturally, Kennedy loyalists were not pleased; certainly the script indulges in speculation. But, all’s fair, considering the unflattering elements that were in play, bare and obvious. Ed Helms impresses as Ted’s longtime friend Joe Gargan, and Bruce Dern boils with silent anger as patriarch Joseph Kennedy. Kate Mara plays Miss Kopechne. She lost her life, her family their daughter. Kennedy’s performance in this catastrophe probably later lost him his nominating bid for the Presidency, which, after nominee Jimmy Carter’s defeat, went to Ronald Reagan in 1980, a loss hard to fully calculate.
With Jim Gaffigan, Taylor Nichols, Clancy Brown (interesting change of pace casting, as spinner par excellence Robert McNamara), Olivia Thirlby, Andrea Blackman (a decidedly disgusted Joan Kennedy). 101 minutes.