Bleakly exposing a dark chapter in political history, Chappaquiddick spins an ambiguous moral compass that refuses to let us land anywhere comfortably.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) has spent his life in the shadow of his brothers, Bobby and John F. Kennedy. Seeking to forge his own glory and make his father (Bruce Dern) proud, he follows in their political footsteps on a far less successful presidential campaign. After leaving a party on Chappaquiddick Island with a former staff member of Bobby’s (Kate Mara), an accident submerges their car in a river and drowns the girl. Escaping unscathed, Ted resists his lawyer’s (Ed Helms) pleas to report the incident, and instead follows his father’s advice to conjure an alibi.
John Curran’s (The Killer Inside Me, Tracks) latest and possibly best film Chappaquiddick dramatises the scandal that nearly buried Teddy Kennedy. Ultimately, it leaves us with the realisation that a loud news cycle and press circulation can manipulate final feelings on a subject, and even will us to forgive and forget some of the things people in power have done. Did somebody say fake news?
Curran reels us in by making Teddy a largely likeable and admirable figure, then reveals his flaws and frustrations at being unable to reach his family’s high standards. Following the death of Bobby’s former staff member, Teddy deviates between coming clean of his guilt and doing the right thing, and covering up the incident to keep his political ambitions intact. It’s a complex and layered role that Jason Clarke brings to life perfectly. He seamlessly shifts between charm and dutifulness, to some downright cold and calculated damage control. It’s easily one of his best performances.
Refreshingly, some of his co-stars are also given the chance to shine by playing against type. Kate Mara unfortunately checks out early, but she creates a tragic character in the limited screen time she has. Likewise, Ed Helms, whose name is synonymous with goofball comedy, offers great restraint in a performance that shows he has some very capable dramatic chops.
Chappaquiddick’s producers reportedly received pressure from some very powerful political figures and friends of the Kennedys to not release the film, while other associates lambasted it as an “outright fabrication” and “trafficking in conspiracy theories”, which really only makes it all the more interesting. It can’t answer questions for us, but it does present us one thrilling bucket of worms. Like it or not, sometimes truth can get in the way of duty, and if Chappquiddick’s detractors are to be believed, truth can most definitely get in the way of a good yarn.
Chappaquiddick is available in Australian cinemas from May 10
Image courtesy of Transmission Films