Salisbury Press

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Movie Review: ‘Chappaquiddick’

Friday, May 4, 2018 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

“Chappaquiddick” reopens up a tragic case in United States history.

The film’s title refers to the island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of the southern tip of Cape Cod, Mass.

Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke), a rising star in U.S. politics and the remaining great Kennedy hope, at least in the eyes of his ailing father, and Kennedy family patriarch, Joe Kennedy (Bruce Dern), after the assassinations of Ted Kennedy’s brothers, Robert Kennedy, gunned down in a hotel during his presidential bid, and President John F. Kennedy, killed during a motorcade in Dallas Tex.

Late on the night of July 18, 1969, Ted Kennedy left what the film depicts as an alcohol-besotted party that he hosted in a gray-shingled Cape Cod house on Chappaquiddick. Kennedy, 37, is reputed to have given a ride in an Oldsmobile sedan to Kennedy campaign worker Mary Joe Kopeckne, 28, a Wilkes Barre native.

As the story goes, and it is a story subject to interpretation of the police and court inquiry in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, Ted Kennedy drove off the Dike Bridge, a small wooden ramplike structure with no guardrails. Kopeckne drowned in the submerged car. Ted Kennedy escaped.

The retelling of what happened that night and of subsequent events, including whether Ted Kennedy swam across the narrow strait between Chappaquiddick and Martha’s Vineyard, or was taken there in a rowboat by aides, and when he or aides reported the car accident, and as to how the accident investigation was handled has generated hundreds of newspaper (including one by yours truly) and magazine articles, more than 15 books, including a fictionalized account by author Joyce Carol Oates, and television and radio shows.

Ted Kennedy pleaded guilty to “leaving the scene of an accident after causing injury” and received a two-month suspended sentence. He was re-elected senator and was in the U.S. Congress for some 47 years as a Massachusetts senator. He unsuccessfully sought the Democrat Party presidential nomination in 1980. Ted Kennedy died in 2009.

John Curran (“Tracks,” 2013; “The Painted Veil,” 2006; “Praise,” 1998) directs in a documentary-style, but uses selective flashbacks in an attempt to shed light on the car crash, Kopeckne’s death, and Ted Kennedy’s reaction and handling, or mishandling, of the tragedy.

In the screenplay by Andrew Logan and Taylor Allen (itheir feature film screenwriters debuts), “Chappaquiddick” mostly emphasizes the way the handlers of Ted Kennedy handled the way he handled the incident. While the viewer may want something more definitive, judgment is left open in what seems to be a fairly-balanced portrayal of the tragedy. What really happened may only be known to Kennedy, Kopeckne and God.

Jason Clarke (“Everest,” 2015; “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” 2014; “Zero Dark Thirty,” 2012), who plays Ted Kennedy, bears an uncanny resemblence to him and seems to have his mannerisms and accent down to a T.

Fine in supporting roles are Ed Helms and Jim Gaffigan as Kennedy aides. Kate Mara plays Mary Jo Kopeckne, ironically, a minor role in a film in which her death is the major topic.

“Chappaquiddick” is not a great film, but bears viewing, and discussion. The tragedy of what went off the Chappaquiddick bridge is still a subject of debate some 50 years later.

“Chappaquiddick,” MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.); Genre; Drama, History; Run time: 1 hr, 46 min.; Distributed by Entertainment Studios.

Credit Readers Anonymous: The “Chappaquiddick” screenplay correctly refers to the smooth macadem surface of Main Street, the main road back to the Edgartown Ferry, compared to the bumpy dirt Dike Road, which is a sharp-right turn and leads to Dike Bridge, and a dead-end at a secluded beach.

Box Office, April 27: “Avengers: Infinity War” set an opening weekend North America box office record, $250 million, besting its Disney stablemate, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which opened with $247.9 million in December 2015, and also set a worldwide opening weekend box office record, $650 million. “A Quiet Place” dropped one slot to No. 2, with $10.6 million, $148.1 million, four weeks. “I Feel Pretty” stayed at No. 3, with $8.1 million, $29.5 million, two weeks.

4. “Rampage” headed down two places, $7.1 million, $77.9 million, three weeks. 5. “Black Panther” benefiting from a Marvel Cinematic Universe “Avengers” bump, rose three spots, $4.3 million, $688 million, 11 weeks. 6. “Super Troopers 2” stomped down two places, $3.6 million, $22 million, two weeks. 7. “Truth Or Dare” again skipped down two places, $3.2 million, $35.3 million, three weeks. 8. “Blockers” dropped one place, $2.9 million, $53.2 million, four weeks. 9. “Ready Player One” dropped three places, $2.4 million, $130.6 million, five weeks. 10. “Traffik” skidded down one place, $1.6 million, $6.7 million, two weeks.

14. “Chappaquiddick” lost one place, $704,000, $15,817,841, four weeks.

73. Bethlehem native Dan Roebuck’s directorial theatrical feature debut, “Getting Grace,” dropped 30 places, $2,313, playing on five screens nationally, $181,549, six weeks.

Unreel, May 4:

“Tully,” R: Jason Reitman directs Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, and Ron Livingston in the Comedy Drama about a mother of three and her nanny named Tully.

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes