Thirteen months ago I threw some praise at a 5.11.16 draft of Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan‘s Chappaquiddick. I tore through it in no time. It’s the kind of well-finessed backroom melodrama that I love — no bullshit, subdued emotions, no tricks or games. It’s tense and well-honed, and, like I said on 8.18.16, a nightmare that had me shaking my head and muttering “Jesus H. Christ”.
Like the script, the film (which I saw this morning at 8:30 am) is a damning, no-holds-barred account of the infamous July 1969 auto accident that caused the death of Kennedy family loyalist and campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne, and which nearly destroyed Sen. Edward Kennedy‘s political career save for some high-powered finagling and string-pulling that allowed the younger brother of JFK and RFK to more or less skate.
Jason Clarke as the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy in John Curran’s Chappaquiddick.
Just about every scene exudes the stench of an odious situation being suppressed and re-narrated by big-time fixers, many of whom are appalled at Ted’s behavior and character but who do what’s necessary regardless.
There’s no question that director John Curran, dp Maryse Alberti and editor Keith Fraase are dealing straight, compelling cards, and that the film has stuck to the ugly facts as most of us recall and understand them, and that by doing so it paints the late Massachusetts legislator and younger brother of JFK and RFK in a morally repugnant light, to put it mildly.
All along I’ve been hoping that Curran would just shoot the script efficiently, minus any kind of showing off or oddball strategies that might diminish what was on the page. This is exactly what he’s done. Curran has crafted an intelligent, mid-tempo melodrama about a weak man who commits a careless, horrible act, and then manages to weasel out of any serious consequences.
Chappaquiddick may not be the stuff of monumental cinema (stylistically it feels like a respectable HBO-level thing), but it’s a frank account of how power works (or worked in 1969, at least) when certain people want something done and are not averse to calling in favors. EMK evaded justice by way of ingrained subservience to the Kennedy mystique, a fair amount of ethical side-stepping and several relatively decent folks being persuaded to look the other way.