FilmReview

Review: ‘Chappaquiddick’ Resonates with Today with its Political Message

Christian Ziolkowski ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

In 2018, trust in elected officials is seemingly at a low point. Regardless of one’s political affiliations, the notion that politicians with whom we disagree can still be genuinely good people has nearly vanished. It is easy to wish for simpler times, for unifying figures who the country rallied around. To wish for Roosevelts, Reagans, and of course, Kennedys.

It is difficult to imagine a political family with more mythology surrounding them than the Kennedys. When they were in power, it was nothing less than Camelot. The domestic bliss in the White House seemed to permeate the entire country. It seemed as if the family could do no wrong. Even their deaths promoted this mythology. John and Robert Kennedy were both assassinated at young ages, ensuring that they would remain young in our hearts forever.

But idealizing the past can be dangerous, and that is exactly what director John Curran avoids in Chappaquiddick, a no-frills retelling of a darker Kennedy story.

Jason Clarke in Chappaquiddick. Photo Credit: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures.

Senator Ted Kennedy, played excellently by Jason Clarke, is something of a black sheep to his elite family. He has not had the political success of his older brothers, but he has one thing going for him: he’s still alive. Despite his love of partying, he is the family’s last hope at another presidency. But that changes one fateful night in 1969. While partying on Chappaquiddick island in Martha’s Vineyard, he drives his car off a bridge, with one of his female staffers riding shotgun. The woman, 28-year-old Mary Joe Kopechne (Kate Mara), died in the accident.

The film follows the Kennedy family’s attempts to cover up what could be a career-ending scandal. They utilize their vast wealth and connections to get the best lawyers and fixers, putting their own ambitions before the well-being of Kopechne and her family.

Kate Mara in Chappaquiddick. Photo Credit: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures.

In the midst of the Mueller investigation and the frequent chants of “Lock Her Up!” at Trump rallies, Chappaquiddick serves as a reflection on what is necessary to acquire power in this country. The Kennedys are known for their virtues, particularly their embrace of civil rights. Compared to other politicians of the era, like Richard Nixon, they can come across as downright angelic. But the thesis of Curran’s film seems to be that nobody reaches the most powerful position in the world without some moral shortcomings.

Chappaquiddick is a story that only life can write. Not as outlandish as the political stories we see on shows like House of Cards, but too strange for any writer striving for political realism. This excellent film is neither pro nor anti-Kennedy. Curran simply strips away our preconceptions about the family and shows the events as they happened. Combined with solid acting (particularly from Bruce Dern, in a haunting performance as the patriarch of the Kennedy clan), this timely film reminds us all to reconsider our ideas of politicians as human beings, because nothing is as it seems.

Overall Grade: B+

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