Austin Film Festival’s Closing Night Film “Chappaquiddick” Arrives in Theaters Now
By Liz Lopez
Before anyone decides to avoid viewing the new feature film, “Chappaquiddick,” please stop and reconsider. There might be varied reasons individuals may choose to dismiss it; because it is about politics, or it is just another story about the Kennedy family. “Chappaquiddick” is presented as a piece of history from the 1960s that some individuals are aware of, either in complete or incomplete detail, but as this story is told, it is significant in so many ways. It touches on so many topics that are relevant to this day, including corruption, privilege that allows some individuals to avoid paying full consequences for their deeds, as well as altering the facts that suit the needs for an alibi. No matter how many details a viewer has about the tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne in the late 1960s, the original screenplay by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan for “Chappaquiddick,” directed by John Curran, remains factual from the location and accident, as well as it provides in depth information about the steps Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy took, those he failed to take and also all the assistance he received to address and report the incident that results in more than one consistent version. This is also called a whitewash.
Mary Jo Kopechne (portrayed by Kate Mara), is a former staff member for the late Robert Kennedy. She has been with other staff and guests since earlier in the day attending events at Martha’s Vineyard and Chappaquiddick. Even though there is a party going on, the Senator is discussing business with Kopechne and encouraging her to return to the work to be done in Washington. Ultimately that evening, they continue talking while she is riding in the vehicle driven by Senator Kennedy (Jason Clarke, made up to look so much like a Kennedy, it is as if he is the senator). A wrong turn, an untimely glance away from the wheel, and his vehicle flies off the bridge into the water. He manages to escape the vehicle and she drowns. Questions arise.
Clarke is superb in his performance as Kennedy in “Chappaquiddick” as well as how he manages the voice and accent to sound authentic. He is excellent in the way he looks worried and concerned, but yet he manages to shed his humanity, thinking of no one else and how to clean up the mess he is in. After all, he has a political career, a wife and children to be concerned about. He chooses to return to the party house to locate his lawyer (who is also his cousin) Joe Gargan (Ed Helms), and friend, Massachusetts Attorney General Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan). Despite the advice they give him, it is more than obvious that the senator makes up his own mind first (as we see at the scene of the accident) and then seeks help, only to act in the manner he wants. The facts as presented keep damning him all the while.
Two excellent and powerful scenes occur between Senator Kennedy as he first speaks by phone to his father, Joseph P. Kennedy (a perfect Bruce Dern), and later face to face in the family home. Additionally, there are other scenes with others helping to strategize behind closed doors; speechwriter Ted Sorenson (Taylor Nichols) and the former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown). Even a local physician is called to the home.
Overall, the casting of the actors for their respective roles is outstanding for this historical drama.
Too many inconsistencies surface and the doubt lingers. But as history shows, there is doubt, but that this incident did not end his long running political career. Be ready to view scenes of just how supportive voters are.
The film is rated PG 13 and has a running time of an hour and 41 minutes. It opens in theaters April 6th.
STUDIO: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures