The Fourth Son of a Political Dynasty

Chappaquiddick

Director: John Curran

Cast: Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Olivia Thirlby, Ed Helms, Bruce Dern, Jim Gaffagan, Taylor Nichols, Lexie Roth

Many films have been made about the Kennedys or those related to them, most recently being Pablo Larrain’s beautiful film Jackie featuring an Oscar worthy performance by Natalie Portman.

While The Painted Veil director John Curran’s film Chappaquiddick is no masterpiece and is quite slow moving, it nevertheless remains a fascinating account of one of the Kennedy’s lesser known political scandals.

This involved Senator Edward Kennedy, superbly played by Australian actor Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, The Great Gatsby), who was the fourth son of the Kennedy clan and the only surviving son after his three older brothers died successively.

Chappaquiddick takes place in Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 1969, two days before American astronaut Neil Armstrong successfully landed on the moon. Edward Kennedy and his cousin Joseph Gargan played by The Hangover star Ed Helms host a small decadent party on Chappaquiddick an island off Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Among the guests is Mary Jo Kepechne played by former House of Cards star Kate Mara who gets fatally entangled with Senator Edward Kennedy.

As the evening progresses Edward and Mary Jo go on a moonlight drive around the island but this romantic venture turns into tragedy when after becoming intoxicated Edward unknowingly drives the car off a low bridge and it plunges into a river and he escapes the accident unscathed, while poor Mary Jo gets trapped in the drowning automobile and dies. The worst part is that Edward Kennedy walked away from the scene of a fatal accident and then later tried to cover it up using his family’s considerable political influence.

Chappaquiddick deals with the aftermath of the tragic event and the engulfing political scandal it could have for the ambitious Senator Edward Kennedy who is desperate to follow in his two older brothers’ political careers with JFK becoming US president and Robert Kennedy becoming a US senator, both of whom got assassinated during the turbulent 1960’s.

What makes Chappaquiddick so fascinating is the way in which Edward Kennedy, with a cool emotional detachment and often seeking advice from his wheelchair bound father Joseph Kennedy, wonderfully played by veteran actor and Oscar nominee Bruce Dern (Nebraska) whose only word of wisdom is alibi.

The patriarch of the powerful political dynasty which is the Kennedys, based at their family compound in Hyannis port, Massachusetts, is determined to protect the Kennedy legacy, despite numerous tragic events and subsequent scandals.

Chappaquiddick is a riveting historical drama about a political scandal which literally gets eclipsed by the men landing on the moon on the same weekend. As compared to Jackie, Chappaquiddick lacks grandiosity and elegance, but remains relevant as to how political scandals are essentially covered up and the flow of information is conspicuously controlled.

Recommended for viewers that enjoy American historical films, Chappaquiddick gets a film rating of 7 out of 10. My only criticism is that sections of the film could have been edited to avoid repetition and the script required insightful dialogue.

 

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