“To tell the truth, even if it’s my version” – Ted Kennedy (1969)
This line haunts Ted Kennedy in the days following the tragic car accident in which his car went over the infamous bridge off the Island of Chappaquiddick. In the car, he had one passenger, Mary Jo, a former campaign secretary of his late brother, President Robert Kennedy, who he was convincing to rejoin the Kennedy family as his campaign secretary for the upcoming presidential campaign. But that is all cut short when she drowns in the car, causing a series of complications involving the Kennedy family scandal.
The film, directed by John Curran, paints a picture of the grief and conflict that young Senator Ted Kennedy goes through as he must both analyze and cope with the tragedy that almost destroyed his political campaign. Curran for sure did his homework with the research and details that went into the film. It captured information that the public didn’t necessarily know about the incident, as the actors portrayed how the Kennedy family might have reacted to the trouble that the youngest Kennedy found himself in that one day in 1969.
Ultimately, all the actors that were cast did an exceptional job, especially Bruce Dern (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained). Though Dern doesn’t have many speaking lines, the way he portrays the late Joe Kennedy, Ted’s father, captures someone who had suffered from a stroke and thus couldn’t speak; it was realistic with the emphasis of how to communicate nonverbally. One could see his expression that is conveyed both when he finds out about the scandal from his son that progresses to the end with his final line, “Be Great” as Ted Kennedy is about to make his final speech.
The other actor that did a great job is the one who played the title role of Ted Kennedy, Jason Clark (Everest,Zero Dark Thirty). Clark had so much emotion both during the moments leading up to the tragic accident as well as following, especially as we see how it affected him. His line after, “I’m not going to be president” set up the conflict which was building up to the famous speech at the end in which he ultimately resigns from the Senate. His performance also has a humanistic touch as he was trying to reach the voters, the audience watching could sympathize with him as though it was really just a misfortunate accident. The interviews afterward with the voters, which look as though they are real footage from the actual speech, were a nice touch because it also showed that, despite the tragedy, people still loved him and wanted him to stay as senator.
One thing that might have made it a little stronger and that disappointed me were the lack of flashbacks of the actual events. Building up to the speech, I kept expecting the director to show the actual speech from Ted Kennedy, either as a split screen, or photos at the end with the text explaining the outcome of the real Ted Kennedy, but there was nothing. Because of that, it made me wonder just how accurate the validity of the story was. Were there items that were left out strategically to make Ted Kennedy look like the victim?
Verdict: 4 out of 5
Ultimately, Chappaquiddick is an hour and forty-five minutes based on the “true” story of Ted Kennedy and what happened on July 18, 1969 with campaign strategist Mary Jo Kopechne. Well planned out and researched, the film will have one raveling in the secrets behind the tragic accident and ultimately trying to figure out just whose truth it is and is it in fact what really happened or just for propaganda? It’s definitely a movie to get you thinking about history as a whole as it allows the audience to make their own decision whether it is true or not. The film came out in theaters April 8, 2018 and is currently playing in a theater near you.