This ripped-from-the-headlines story is about the tragic car accident that took the life of Mary Jo Kopechne when Senator Ted Kennedy was at the wheel in the summer of 1969. After driving off a bridge, the young Kennedy panics and leaves the scene of the accident, leaving the 28 year-old Kopechne to drown. It isn’t until the next morning that Kennedy reports the accident, 9 hours later. Considered one of the most controversial political cover-ups of the 20th Century, Kennedy and his team work hard to keep the media at bay as the potential of a court case looms and his life and political career begin to unravel.
Kennedy stories run abundantly, even today, in American history. The lion’s share tends to go to John or Robert, with Ted falling somewhat to the wayside. In Chappaquiddick, we finally see the latter stepping up and into the spotlight as a main character in film. In this narrative, even through darker times, arises a theme that we ideally adhere to in American political figures: integrity.As the film will better show and tell, this true story begins with a fateful evening when Ted (Jason Clarke) had his car run off a bridge in a vacationing home in Martha’s Vineyard. Also in the car was Mary Jo Kopechne, a loyal figure to the Kennedy’s. Ted was unable to save Ms. Kopechne, and instead of reporting to the police, he returned to the home he was staying at. Immediately this should ignite some moral questions, and in doing so makes the film unfold like a morality play. It juggles between Ted’s own damaged psyche and what his friends and advisors believe he should do. Thus the stakes rise: will this accident be the cause of the Kennedy’s downfall? Should he lie to protect an image, or tell the truth and risk not only his personal image, but his family’s? Again, at the core of the film is integrity. It runs freely throughout the film, yet never feels bludgeoning. The tight script by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan keep the action moving and in one location, never biting off more than it can chew. The performances are uniformly excellent as well. Clarke is surely one of the most underrated actors of our time, deeply internalizing much of his pain and pressure. Ed Helms, who plays a close friend and advisor Joe Gargan, surprises with a decidedly underplayed portrayal instead of his usual humorous antics. Some use of strong language keeps the film from Dove approval, but as a film promoting integrity during times of political strife, Chappaquiddick is altogether great, inspiring, and well-meaning film.