“Chappaquiddick” Tells The Story Of An American Tragedy

Depicting Ted Kennedy’s involvement in the fatal 1969 car accident that claims the life of a young campaign strategist, Mary Jo Kopechne.

“Chappaquiddick,” tells the scandal and mysterious events surrounding the tragic drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) who was riding in a car driven by Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke). The basic facts are Ted Kennedy drove his car off the infamous bridge and took the life of an aspiring political strategist and Kennedy insider, but it ultimately changed the course of presidential history forever. Apparently, Senator Kennedy utters the words “I’m not going to be president” and is more focused on protecting himself then he is trying to save Ms. Kopechne.

Exactly what happened that tragic evening will remain unknown, and with all the gaps in the record provided, it leaves the filmmakers with room for speculation and embellishment. Over the years, there have been all kinds of speculations on what exactly happened that evening. Did Senator Kennedy and Mary Jo have some type of relationship? That question still remains, as the film allows you to draw your own conclusion.

The movie also never explains why the Senator waited until the next day (some 10 hours) before he reported the accident. His handlers state he was in shock and wasn’t in his right mind, but you get the feeling Ted had his reasons on why he waited so long. Did he know that this would keep him from being President and therefore, wanted to do just enough to harm his handlers from “fixing” the situation? Again, we will never know.

Ted’s father, Joe Kennedy Sr. (Bruce Dern) assembles a “damage control” team that will do anything to reshape the story in Ted’s favor. However, Ted fights with his father and the team, while it seems the truth gets murky, even in his own mind.

Eventually, Ted pleads guilty for leaving the scene of the accident, and he receives a two-month suspended sentence. The judge for the case says that his rationale for giving the minimum sentence was “because Kennedy had been and would be punished more than anything the court could do to him.”

It is an approximately 106-minute film and if you’re expecting it to address unanswered questions about the events of July 18th, 1969, be prepared to be disappointed. “Chappaquiddick” stays close to the broad outline of what we know happened that evening which is, Ted Kennedy was driving. He swerved off a bridge. The accident killed a young woman. He didn’t report it until hours later.

Kate Mara (“House of Cards”) provides a solid performance as Mary Jo Kopechne. Even though Kate does not have a lot of screen time, the amount she does have is not wasted. Jason Clarke (“Zero Dark Thirty”), who plays Senator Kennedy, does a fine job portraying a complex man and shows his anxiety, guilt, strength, and weaknesses with equal measure.

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