The Kennedys have always been a subject to talk about and to marvel over. It’s also been said that the Kennedy family has been cursed, with the family facing many tragedies that have stained and lined their legacy’s path. Now, Hollywood gears up for a new cinematic tale on the subject of the Kennedys with the movie Chappaquiddick, the famous story revolving Ted Kennedy.
Synopsis: Ted Kennedy’s life and political career become derailed in the aftermath of a fatal car accident in 1969 that claims the life of a young campaign strategist, Mary Jo Kopechne. (D Films)
Starring: Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, and Ed Helms
Writers: Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan
Director: John Curran
Rating: PG (Canada)/PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 101mins
For showtimes and more, check out Chappaquiddick on movietimes.com.
While there were some problems in the movie, Chappaquiddick is an interesting motion picture that is elevated by its narrative cast. It may not be the best Kennedy film but it’s fascination with the Kennedy mythos is there. Chappaquiddick is directed by John Curran, whose previous works include the films Praise, Tracks, and The Painted Veil. Given the whole fascination with the Kennedys, Curran approaches the whole Chappaquiddick incident in the film as a piece of an “untold” tale, revealing the events that were mentioned to the public, but now being told by Ted Kennedy’s POV, which were hidden for quite some time.
Of course those with knowledge of the Chappaquiddick incident of 1969 will probably know the film’s outcome. However, the way it gets there is what makes the film interesting. Naturally, the film’s screenplay, penned by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, mainly focuses on the events of Chappaquiddick incident, making Ted Kennedy (Clarke) one of the primary characters. Interestingly, the movie also focuses on the immediate aftermath of the incident by exploring Ted’s bewildering state while trying to fully cope and wrap his head around what happened. Even more interesting is the somewhat disenchanted notion that he gets following the accident, stating “I’m not going to become President” or something like that rather than stating what happened. Given that notion, it felt like the film was trying to give Ted a more dramatic role to make him more of a “Kennedy” and not to let his fatal mistake tarnish his family name. Ultimately, the theme of men of privilege and the choices and consequences they make are prime example to examined throughout some friendly heated debates among many out there.
On a presentation viewpoint, Chappaquiddick is a well-made and well-crafted feature film. A lot of the movie’s camera angles have a certain creative edge to them, creating some unique shots throughout the film. While it’s not a necessarily aspect in a bio-pic, it works effectively, adding a layer of movie making quality to the film’s proceedings. The rest of the film’s technical / visual aspects and nuances are concrete within the film’s time period and setting, from the late 60s clothing outfits and attire by the film’s costume designers, to the various locations. Also, the movie’ score, composed by Garth Stevenson, is good, playing its melodic underscore soundtrack throughout the film.
Despite the fascinating untold story in the Kennedys history and the well-crafted presentation, Chappaquiddick isn’t the most theatrically riveting motion picture that it set out to be, faltering in some areas in the film’s execution. Perhaps the most prevalent and problematic piece of the feature is its overall pacing and plot beats that make up the film. The movie, which runs 101 minutes, feels much longer than it should’ve been. By showing “event by event” of what Ted faced in the immediate aftermath of the crash, it becomes a bit too much and seems to consume a lot of the film’s running time, which ultimately makes a large bulk of the movie’s first half a bit lethargic in its pacing and in keeping a viewer’s attention. Additionally, the film quickly jumps into the world of Ted Kennedy, trying to establish many of its characters too quickly.
The character of Mary Jo Kopechne (Mara) comes off as one of the weakest characters of the cast, which is disheartening as she is the somewhat focal point of the narrative. There’s also a few parts that could’ve used more character development. Chappaquiddick should’ve been made for the “small screen” and be reworked as a TV miniseries. This would allow the story “to breathe”, filling in some of the gaps that take place before, during, and after the incident. Unfortunately, Chappaquiddick goes for the big screen feature film agenda and doesn’t quite find its stride.
Additionally, much like how the film Jackie portrayed the movie version of Jackie Kennedy as a vicious, cold-hearted, and self-absorbed woman, the movie version of Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick is a somewhat buffoon. Yes, he’s a powerful state senator from a prestigious family, but he’s portrayed as a person who has lost his way from his dreams of being the future president of the United States being dashed. There’s not much to Ted’s character development, beyond the character acting and reacting to events and being told what to do. Bio-pic feature films usually delve into the mind of a famous individual, unfortunately, Chappaquiddick has a hard time developing Ted’s psyche. It presents Ted as a man who fears letting down the family name. Whether that’s how the real-life Ted Kennedy acted during the true-life Chappaquiddick incident or not remains a mystery. Regardless, the film’s screenplay could’ve been a bit beefier and finely sharpened, giving it a more dramatic punch.
The cast in Chappaquiddick is small but effective group. Leading the charge is Clarke who has mostly been a “supporting” player in the feature films he’s done. True to his acting ability, Clarke holds a strong presence and does an impressive job as Ted Kennedy, elevating the character by expressing a duality as a proud and powerful senator that bares the Kennedy name and the other a fearful and dazzled man that faces a terrible incident. While it could’ve explored a bit more on the psyche character development within Ted, that’s not on Clarke’s performance but rather the film’s screenplay and / or Curran’s direction.
The same can be said for Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne. She handles herself well on-screen, giving her a likable quality from the get-go and painting her as a sympathetic martyr of which befalls the aspiring political strategist. Unfortunately, the movie quickly brings her character into the narrative and gets rid of her in the same fashion, leaving very little character development.
Out of the supporting characters, the one that stands out the most would have to be Helms as Ted’s cousin and close lawyer / confidante Joe Gargan. Helms, mostly a comedic actor, displays a more dramatic side in giving a very impressive performance as Joe. While he may not be recognized for this role in the next award season, Helm’s portrayal of Joe Gargan is definitely one of his more memorable, especially being a departure for him. Behind Helms, Bruce Dern, gives a great performance as Ted’s father Joseph P. Kennedy. While it’s a role that doesn’t require a lot of talking, he seems to relish the opportunity to display his acting talents in a role such as this, which he does beautifully.
Director John Curran’s latest movie, examines the infamous accident that took place in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts, telling the somewhat “unknown” version through the eyes of Ted Kennedy and the powerful advisers that aided him. While the film has some uneven pacing and lacks a resounding cinematic footing, the film is still an intriguing piece within the history context being told and its cast, despite some not being fully developed, give solid acting in their respective roles. It was a very fascinating story but the film could’ve been better in certain areas. It was an interesting, but not riveting thus, it would be worth a rental as it’s really not a “must see” movie to see in theaters, but it’s still good enough to be seen later on. As it stands, Chappaquiddick, despite it’s flaws, uncovers another shroud of mystery in the Kennedys tainted family history, which will surely incite fascination with the antecedent of this political American family. In the end, power and lies goes hand in hand with the Kennedys and Chappaquiddick strongly solidifies that idea.
3.6 Out of 5 (Rent It)
If interested, check out my movie blog @ Jason’s Movie Blog for my reviews of current movies.