Riveting account of an American tragedy

Jason Clarke (centre) is Ted Kennedy in Chappaquidick (IMDB)

Chapaquiddick is an engrossing and factually-based account of a highly political incident involving one of America's most famous families. Source: ACOFB.

On July 18, 1969, Senator Ted Kennedy drove his car into a canal, killing his passenger, campaign strategist Mary Jo Kopechne.

At the time, Ted Kennedy (Australian Jason Clarke), was the US Senator from Massachusetts. He left a campaign party late at night at a rented cottage on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts with Mary Jo (Kate Mara).

On the way to the ferry, he drove his car off a bridge into water, and managed to escape from the overturned vehicle. Fleeing the scene, he walked back to the party, where he informed Joe Gargan (Ed Helms), and Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan), about what happened. Both unsuccessfully tried to rescue Mary Jo.

Gargan and Markham immediately advised the Senator to turn himself into the police. Instead, a confused Ted Kennedy spent the rest of the night at a hotel, and had breakfast with his associates the following morning. The submerged car was found later in the morning, and Kopechne’s body was recovered from it.

Few who lived through the late 60’s will fail to remember the Chappaquiddick incident. It had profound moral and political significance in US presidential history. It exposed the enormous reach of political power that existed at the time, the influence of America’s most celebrated family, and the vulnerability of the family’s youngest son, whose actions shamed it.

The incident marked the end of the political dynasty of the Kennedy family that had endured the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas Texas in 1963, and the subsequent assassination of his younger brother, Robert, in 1968, who aspired to replace him.

There is no certain explanation of why Kennedy did not call for help, and the film doesn’t attempt to give it – it keeps its focus on a powerful, ambitious man who behaved erratically and irresponsibly.

The mystery of Chappaquiddick remains, but the film gives a fascinating look at American politics at a key moment in political history. The real power of the movie rests in its portrayal of political immorality. It offers the viewer a sober, quality account of the conflicts between political power, and personal moral responsibility, and the weaknesses of those who try to bridge the gap between them.

– Review by Peter W. Sheehan, ACOFB

Chappaquiddick: Starring Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Bruce Dern, Ed Helms, and Jim Gaffigan. Directed by John Curran. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language). 106 min.

FULL REVIEW

Chappaquiddick (ACOFB)

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