Austin Film Festival 2017 Review: CHAPPAQUIDDICK

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

On July 18, 1969,   Mary Jo Kopechne, a member of the Boiler Room Girls staff who worked on Senator Ted Kennedy’s campaign, died by drowning just off of Chappaquiddick Island.  The Senator had hosted a party for some of his friends, colleagues and campaign staff on the island.  The Senator reported that he and Kopechne had taken a drive towards the water, but had an accident that landed the vehicle in the water.  Though the Senator escaped, Kopechne remained in the car where she drowned to death.  Directed by John Curran, the film Chappaquiddick offers some insight into this tragic event and the disturbing way it was handled by Kennedy and his staff. 

Jason Clarke stars as Senator Edward (Ted) Kennedy.  Having lost his older brothers John and Robert to assassins’ bullets,  Ted is the latest Kennedy to be groomed for a run on the presidential race.  As Kennedy is making headway in a presidential campaign a massive scandal arises involving a motor vehicle accident and the death of one of his campaign employees (Kate Mara).  While Kennedy and his staff attempt to downplay the events and strange circumstances of the Mary Jo Kopechne’s death, the attempted cover up and scandal that quickly arises is a major fire even the Kennedy family cannot quell.

Director John Curran, with a screenplay by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, delivers a fascinating look at the Chappaquiddick scandal that put an end to Ted Kennedy’s presidential run.  Though the film does have its gripping, tense and unnerving moments, the movie does stagger a little with some pacing issues.  Still, the film does have enough moments that hit their marks and offer a biting commentary on the priorities of politicians, especially when they have more ambitious goals for themselves.

Actor Jason Clarke not only has an uncanny resemblance to Kennedy in the film (thanks to makeup), but also delivers an excellent performance as the Kennedy brother who had always been the runty underdog of the family.  Clarke does a fantastic job of channeling the vulnerabilities of Ted Kennedy and brings a nearly petrified desperation to the character.  He also does an excellent job of channeling the Senator’s charisma during the character’s less stressful moments.  Though Clarke is the superstar of the film, Chappaquiddick also features great work by Kate Mara, Clancy Brown, Olivia Thirlby, Ed Helms, Bruce Dern, and Jim Gaffigan.

Though this film wasn’t the best entry I saw at the 2017 Austin Film Festival, I can still see why it was selected.  Though it has its weaknesses, it does have some descent writing and solid direction.  I still strongly recommend my readers to watch this movie, but perhaps they should see it at a matinee or at home.  One thing is for sure, though, I do hope that Jason Clarke has a chance for at least some acting nominations, because his performance definitely deserves some love.


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