A damning portrait of arrogant male power and the ultimate abuse of a female subordinate, Chappaquiddick (Entertainment Studios, 4.6.18) is obviously its own raison d’etre. The story of the 1969 Chappquiddick tragedy is well-known and has been well-investigated, but producers Mark Ciardi, Chris Fenton and Campbell McInnes, screenwriters Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan and director John Curran wanted to deliver a concise but take-no-prisoners version of this cold, tragic tale in a narrative theatrical form.
Chappaquiddick has the cojones to call a spade a spade about a late, much beloved political figure, a respected liberal deal-maker and the most powerful and longest serving representative of what was, for decades, American’s premiere political family — the closest thing we ever had to a version of the British royals.
But over the last couple of months, Chappaquiddick has unwittingly slipped into the here and now. Without design or anticipation, what Chappaquiddick said last year during its making, the portrait it created of a world-famous power abuser and blame-shifter suddenly fits right into what’s happening now with this and that alleged sexual abuser being taken to task and made to walk the public plank.
There’s no question that the film is dealing straight, compelling cards, and that it sticks 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.