Ted Kennedy may have been ready to presidentially emerge from that enormous family sibling shadow come the fall of 1969.
In Chappaquiddick, director John Curran takes the screenplay of Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan and revisits the series of events that took place out on Cape Cod the summer of 1969 and how they were handled by the youngest son of the Kennedy empire, and therefore setting the tumbling the dominoes of history.
It’s a tense story of death and life and entitlement, in case you weren’t around when it really happened and they didn’t get around to it in your history classes.
The acting in this 1-hour, 46-minute docu-drama is first-class. Australian Jason Clarke exudes the mix of brashness, bravado of a scion of a member of one of the richest families of the time, a proud unit that gave the country the President John F., who was assassinated, and his younger brother Attorney General and eventual presidential candidate Robert F., who was also gunned down. Third brother Teddy can’t live up to Jack and Bobby in patriarch Joe’s eyes, and so there’s a big dose of insecurity thrown into his personality, too.
In this weekend in Cape Cod, Ted has arrived for a family regatta. At his side is Joe Gargan, cousin and trusted family attorney, and Paul Markham, Massachusetts Attorney General, as they throw a party for a crew of campaign workers, mostly female, who they considered instrumental to the success of brother Bobby’s run.
Ted has his eye on the blonde Mary Jo Kopechne, who has since moved back to New Jersey. He has designs on talking her back to D.C. And more than that? This is left only somewhat vague as he takes her on car ride in which he drinks whiskey from the bottle and drives too fast and tries to escape the attention of the local constable.
Off the small bridge they go.
He saves himself and walks back to the party, asking for the help of trusted friends Gargan and Markham. Ed Helms and Jim Gaffigan are tense and tireless in these roles, steady for the drama with not a drop of their usual comic selves.
They say this movie’s telling stays close to the truth. Ted’s, however, drifts this way and that as he grapples with the reaction of his father, a contingent of family fixers, the two men closest to the event, the local police, Mary Jo’s family, his wife Joan, his Massachusetts senatorial constituents and his political career as a whole.
And, yes, what it means to be a Kennedy.
It’s a good lesson in morality and politics, quite timely, I’d say.