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"CHAPPAQUIDDICK"
(2018) (Jason Clarke, Ed Helms) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A U.S. Senator with presidential aspirations and those in his immediate circle must contend with him having left the scene of a fatal, single-car accident where he was the driver.
PLOT:
It's 1969 and Teddy Kennedy (JASON CLARKE) is the last surviving son of Joseph Kennedy (BRUCE DERN), what with having lost one brother in WWII and two others to assassins' bullets. Having taken over his late brother's Senate seat in Massachusetts and then winning his reelection bid, there's talk of him possibly running for President. That's certainly on the minds of those who gather with him to party in Chappaquiddick. They include his cousin and former chairman of Bobby Kennedy's presidential campaign, Joseph Gargan (ED HELMS); United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Paul Markham (JIM GAFFIGAN); and Mary Jo Kopechne (KATE MARA), her friend, Rachel (OLIVIA THIRLBY), and other women who worked as "boiler room girls" campaign aides for Bobby.

While intoxicated, Teddy takes Mary Jo out for a ride at night and ends up accidentally driving off the Dike bridge and into the Poucha Pond inlet. He manages to get out, but she does not, and when Joseph and Paul return to the scene, they're unable to get into the car and thus tell Teddy he must inform the authorities. But Teddy doesn't do that until the following morning after a deceased Mary Jo has been pulled from the watery wreckage and Edgartown Police Chief Dominick Arena (JOHN FIORE) is already on the case.

Accepting a written statement from Teddy, Arena thinks the case is closed, but as word starts to get out especially as related to Teddy not immediately reporting the incident, the political machinery begins churning to save Teddy's political career. That includes bringing in former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (CLANCY BROWN), presidential advisor Ted Sorensen (TAYLOR NICHOLS) and others who try to manipulate and spin the facts in Teddy's favor, all while the politician grapples with his guilt, unfavorable view in his father's eyes, and his future.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
It's been said there's usually one defining moment in many a famous person's life that turned them into who and what they eventually became. While that's usually far from the complete and full reason -- as everything that happened before and up to that point ultimately and cumulatively resulted in their persona and related actions -- there's no denying that certain events can pivot their mindset and behavior into the direction they consciously or subconsciously wanted.

That said, there are also defining moments that can destroy or at least derail one's path. And that's nowhere more evident and less forgiving -- at least until this most recent presidential election -- than in politics. Who can forget the photo of Gary Hart with Donna Rice on his lap aboard the appropriately titled "Monkey Business?" Or the far more benign yet somehow, some way equally career disruptive moment where Howard Dean let out some sort of enthusiastic primal scream and all of the air for his presidential bid followed that.

Probably the most prominent example of such a detrimental pivotal moment was when Senator Ted Kennedy drove off the Dike Bridge and into the Poucha Pond inlet in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts with his late brother's former campaign aide, Mary Jo Kopechne, by his side. The senator escaped, but she did not, and he didn't report the incident until the following morning after the single-car wreck and her body had already been discovered.

While Kennedy's political career ultimately survived -- with him eventually becoming known as "The Lion of the Senate" for serving for nearly 47 years in the legislative body -- any presidential ambitions that he might have had around the time and even later when he did actually run in 1980 ended up haunted by that single, fateful incident from the night of July 18, 1969.

That and the fallout, cover-ups and scramble to save what at the time seemed like the last viable prominent political opportunity for one of America's most famous but seemingly cursed families is explored in the drama "Chappaquiddick." Clocking in at around 100 minutes, the film doesn't have enough time to cover all of the interwoven moving parts of the infamous incident and its aftermath, but all involved do a decent job of getting the overall gist of the story and those involved up onto the big screen.

After a brief bit of audio clips commenting on the deaths of his three brothers, the film rather quickly gets to the incident at hand as Teddy (Jason Clarke) leaves a small party in Chappaquiddick with Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara), drinks some more in his car, and then accidentally drives off the Dike Bridge into an inlet, resulting in her death.

Dazed, he walks back to the cottage where he informs his cousin, Joseph Gargan (Ed Helms), and Massachusetts Attorney General Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan) about what's happened. They all race back to the scene and while the two other men strip down and try to extract Mary Jo from the dark waters, Teddy sits up on the bridge, likely thinking his family is indeed truly cursed, that his political career is probably over, and that his father (Bruce Dern) will only see this as yet another disappointment as compared to his more accomplished -- and promising -- brothers.

Unable to see if Mary Jo is still in the car, they get Teddy back to his hotel and tell him he must report the incident. Instead, he waits until mid-morning the next day by which time the accident and Mary Jo's body have already been discovered. What follows are some interactions with his angry and still stroke-riddled father as well as meetings with a team of high-power lawyers and advisors. They try to spin the situation and manipulate the truth to protect the senator's future political aspirations that, up until this point, included possibly running for the presidency like John and Robert before him.

While he doesn't have the familiar accent down, Clarke does a fine job of portraying the adult son who's still looking for approval from his father while living in the shadows of his late brothers, including JFK's quest to reach and walk on the moon, something that coincidentally overlaps with what's occurring back on terra firma. Helms, meanwhile, is terrific as the family relative who's almost a brother to the protagonist and has a conscience that bothers him regarding how all of this is playing out.

None of what's present is Oscar caliber, nor is it so compelling and gripping that you'll end up completely losing yourself in the story that really needs several more hours (perhaps in mini-series form) to tell the tale and cover all of the dynamics and complexities. But it's all handled well enough across the board that you won't ever end up distracted and contemplating your own pivotal moment in life that ultimately led you to watch this offering. "Chappaquiddick" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed April 3, 2018 / Posted April 6, 2018


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