BannisterBannister   September 23, 2017  
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“Chappaquiddick” revolves around the tragic car accident that took the life of Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) when Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) was at the wheel in the summer of 1969. After driving off a bridge, the young Kennedy escaped the car and left the scene of the accident, leaving the 28-year-old Kopechne to drown. Kennedy went home but didn’t report the accident for nine hours. The car accident took place on the eve of the Apollo 11 moon landing. After the accident and over the course of the next week, the U.S. Senator struggled between following his own moral compass and using his power and influences to save his Presidential aspirations and protect the Kennedy family legacy and name.

It’s impossible to watch this film without imagining how such an incident would be covered today; very likely, the young woman would not have died had there been cell phones, as she was apparently still alive in the submerged car for at least two hours, maybe three or four. But even more astounding was Ted Kennedy’s not reporting the incident for 10 hours, then the fact that a story that otherwise would have provided endless headlines became an afterthought when the first moon landing took place two days later.
Kate Mara and Ed Helms are joining Jason Clarke in the cast of the feature film Chappaquiddick, which will be directed by John Curran. Mara will star in the pivotal role of Mary Jo Kopechne, the 28-year-old, smart, vivacious teacher and campaign aide to Robert Kennedy who was the passenger in the car of Sen. Ted Kennedy (Clarke) when the car he was driving plunged into the water off a one-lane bridge. Kopechne became trapped in the overturned, submerged car while Kennedy escaped. He then failed to report the accident to police and instead that night reached out to two others — a cousin and friend — to help him.
This is all mapped out in Chappaquiddick, directed by John Curran and written by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan. The screenplay is not adapted from any specific researched book, and when one of the themes is deception it’s hard to know just how much of this actually happened. Maybe that’s part of the point. One leaves Chappaquiddick, named after the island where the Kennedy associate Mary Jo Kopechne drowned at the bottom of a pond, awash in ambiguity. It’s never a question of whether Kennedy’s behavior was wrong, it’s: how much are we supposed to hate him? Put bluntly, if you had immediate access to the most powerful network of political fixers at your disposal, just what would you do?

What follows is an illustration of how the rich and powerful are different from ordinary citizens: Kennedy waffles, returns to the house and actually goes to bed, considers telling the lie that he wasn’t driving, watches the moon landing, has a weird audience with his ailing father (a suitably convincing Bruce Dern), dons a neck brace at Mary Jo’s funeral in an attempt to generate sympathy and eventually gives a speech on TV that more or less makes done with the issue. All the while his staff is buzzing around developing different notions of how to react and implement damage control, all in the service of the exercise of power and how to keep it. In the event, Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a crash causing personal injury and got a two-year suspended sentence.

The score by Garth Stevenson leans too often toward the slow and morose for the good of the film’s forward movement.

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