“Chappaquiddick” – 8.5
In a word: CYA
I know that’s not really one word, but it’s all in the definition, because that’s what the movie was all about: Covering Your Ass.
What’s good about this docudrama is the authenticity injected by writers and the director. There were many opportunities to suggest or infer sensationalism, sexual activity, or even corruption at the highest levels of government, but the movie makers stuck to the facts as they were known without adding sugar and spice for effect.
This is a true story about a car accident, the death of a young woman, and a powerful senator who, with the help of his top aides, did all they could to cover the truth. What came across stronger than any other emotion for the viewer, was then reality that the only thing that the self-absorbed senator cared about was himself and his political future.
Most of us older folks will remember the tragic accident on July 18 of 1969 in which young Mary Jo Kopechne, age 28, died by drowning in a car driven by Senator Ted Kennedy around 11:30 p.m. Kennedy got out, and swam to shore. Mary Jo perished. In the script, Kennedy relates that he tried to get her out, but in fact, the darkness underwater would have been prohibitive for a rescue.
Mary Jo was one of several young women partying at a private cottage near Martha’s Vineyard, when the two decided to take a drive. The small bridge to Chappaquiddick Island proved too problematic to cross, and the car went upside down in the water. Yes, Ted Kennedy was known to enjoy his booze. And yes, many folks assumed his motives with Mary Jo were less than moral. But these inferences are not provable.
The movie was mainly about the panic, the cover-up, the inflated lies and false stories, all designed to establish alibis and excuses for the young senator. The most telling line in the entire movie was uttered by Kennedy himself, after a long arduous swim and walk back to the cottage, and stumbling to meet his friends, one of his protectorates asked, “What in the hell happened to you?”
Kennedy’s response was not “I had an accident.” It was not, “Mary Jo drowned in a car.” His response, “I’m not going to be a president.”
The entire dialogue was centered on covering for Ted Kennedy as best they could. The movie should have been titled, “Me, Myself and I.”
Even Kennedy’s stroke-suffering father, Joseph Kennedy, (played by Bruce Dern) while planted in a wheelchair, expressed his disdain with Ted Kennedy to his face.
What’s most remarkable is the ultimate survival of the culprit. Ted Kennedy was not only re-elected into the U.S. Senate by the unwitting voters, he ultimately became the 4th longest serving senator in history.
A shout-out is in order to Brad Anderson for an excellent job of no-nonsense directing. The role of Ted Kennedy is deftly played by Jason Clarke, who actually bore a striking resemblance to the senator in his early years. Mary Jo was played by Kate Mara who has a 20-year career in film. Acting was excellent across the board. One problematic aspect of this story was the lack of focus on the life Mary Jo and her family.
P.S. Audiences should take note of the date of this tragedy, which was exactly two days before the 1969 moon landing. Thus, it saved the scandal from being focused as the major headline of the time.
Well-done. I give it 8 1/2 out of 10.