Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms, Clancy Brown, Olivia Thirlby, Bruce Dern, Andria Blackman, Jim Gaffigan, Sarah, Elizabeth Mitchell, Taylor Nichols, John Fiore, Lexie Roth
Written by: Taylor Allen, Andrew Logan
Directed by: John Curran
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, disturbing images, some strong language, and historical smoking
Running Time: 101
Date: 04/06/2018

Chappaquiddick (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Ted Reckoning

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Introducing new generations to an infamous historical incident, this drama takes a detailed, matter-of-fact approach; while the result is not exactly stirring, it is at least consistently interesting.

In Chappaquiddick, it's July of 1969, and Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) is the last surviving son of Joe Kennedy (Bruce Dern), determined to become president someday. But one fateful night, after a party on Chappaquiddick Island, he leaves with Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara), who worked on Ted's brother Bobby's campaign. Unwisely getting away from a nosy cop, his car accidentally runs off the Dike Bridge, and Mary Jo is killed.

Distraught, Ted calls on his cousin Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) and attorney Paul F. Markham (Jim Gaffigan), who rush to the bridge, but can do nothing. In the morning, Ted drafts a statement for the police, claiming that he was disoriented and suffering from a concussion. Before long, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown) leaps in, assembling a team of strategists to help save Ted's career. But have too many mistakes been made? And can Ted ever be forgiven?

Adding another facet to an already rich selection of Kennedy-related movies (JFK, Thirteen Hours, Bobby, Parkland, Jackie, LBJ, etc.), Chappaquiddick gets points for avoiding preaching and hysterics, as well as anything lurid or racy. A lesser movie could have easily gone down this road, given that the mere word "Chappaquiddick" was often used for an angry political rallying cry against Senator Kennedy during his lifetime.

Director John Curran (The Painted Veil, Stone, Tracks) does a fine job of building tension and subtle changes of character in largely static, interior shots, and screenwriters Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan effectively weave facts together with fiction. The filmmakers play it like chess moves, manipulating public perception as well as strategic uses of political power.

It also gets points for the canny casting of Clarke, an Australian-born actor who manages to both look and sound like the young Ted Kennedy. The rest of the cast is just as good, with a key performance by a sinister Dern, disabled by a stroke, but still glaring with ferocious, disapproving eyes.

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