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Review: Historical drama CHAPPAQUIDDICK doesn't hold back

Courtesy of Entertainment Studios:


The year was 1964, the country was still reeling from the execution of Bobby Kennedy and the assassination of his brother, John F Kennedy. Now, I didn’t grow up during this decade, but in my afternoon screening I attended, where I was definitely the youngest person in the crowd, everyone else did. So hearing the chatter, reactions, and gasps every time characters in “Chappaquiddick” did something drastic or put forth action; indicated to me that these folks, too, didn’t know the whole story behind how Ted Kennedy’s careless behavior resulted in a national tragedy.

Proving that, when given better material he can act with the best of them, Jason Clarke takes on the not so easy task of portraying Ted Kennedy, the runt of the litter and only living son left in the bloodline, which means he must keep up the family legacy. He was already born into a dynasty, now he must live up to the expectations. Perhaps that’s what propels a semi-annual July weekend getaway with close friends and family, on the small island of Chappaquiddick just on the outskirts of Massachusetts. He needs to be away from all the chaos.

Underneath the façade of Ted’s American poster-boy image, is a trapped individual, constantly striving for excellence, but struggling internally too. Director Jim Curran and writers Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan do a fine job establishing Ted as a human first, before his actions make us dictate our opinion otherwise. It’s almost soul crushing when you know he’s clearly past his limit and gets behind the wheel with one of Bobby’s old secretaries Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) which, tragically, results in her death. The car flies off the bridge and instantly becomes submerged in water, and instead of reporting the incident like his good friend Joe (Ed Helms in a rare dramatic turn) suggests, he goes home for a good night's sleep. If this is his idea of shock, he should get his head examined.

Even when Ted thinks he’s done the right thing (he released a statement proclaiming he didn’t know why he hadn't report the incident sooner and that he made every effort to save her) - the movie doesn’t let you forget just how vile the action was. The only sole voice of reason is Joe, who is the constant aggregator for what should come next. But, Ted is a Kennedy and he does have an army of crisis public relations advisors and lawyers that seemingly will do anything to hide the truth. But we all knew that politics and corruption go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Curran’s searing political drama won’t do any favors for Ted Kennedy (and it shouldn’t), but the biggest surprise is just how relentless it is. In this current political climate, I wouldn't have been shocked had the filmmakers held back some of the more, juicer, plot elements (the film has caused quite a stir of controversy.) I don’t think there was a single person that walked out of this movie not shocked, that’s a reason why it’s one of my favorite films of the year. And aside from Bruce Dern as Teds barely audible, crass, wheelchair stricken old man, the film flows just right.

In addition, though, it’s crucial to set aside any political differences and view the film objectively (which, I have a strong feeling, some people won’t). It’s a compelling piece of work that is acted well and told with real questions that elicits honest to god answers. The film ends with archival footage of news reporters asking random citizens if they’d still vote for Kennedy after what he did and that might be the biggest revelation in this whole movie.

Finally, there’s a line that really stuck with me after viewing the film. Right before Ted is going to address the nation and read a heartfelt, albeit, strategically written statement; he asks his top advisor if he thinks he’ll be forgiven and the guy says “I don’t know Ted, history has the final word on these things.” Amen.

Grade: A-

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, disturbing images, some strong language, and historical smoking

Runtime: 1 hour and 41 minutes

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