A stellar performance from Jason Clarke isn’t enough to overcome a meandering narrative and the pacing issues which plague John Curran’s Chappaquiddick.
While Curran intends to provide insight into the intricate workings of the Kennedy family (especially Ted), the storyline comes across as a drawn-out look at how a political scandal operates. It’s as if Curran tries to accomplish too much in Chappaquiddick. Had the narrative focused on either the Kennedy family dynamic or Ted Kennedy’s political rise, then the tone of this review might have been very different.
This tale centers on the events before and after the accident at Chappaquiddick. Senator Ted Kennedy (Clarke) is still reeling from the death of both his brothers and appears to be wilting under the enormous pressure from the world to run for president. Ted finds comfort in drinking and feels at ease around people who have lower expectations of him.
At a little get-together with some of his late brother Robert’s campaign staff on Chappaquiddick Island, he ends up leaving the party with Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). Intending to find a new place to continue partying, Ted makes a bad turn, causing his 1967 Chevy to flip into the water below. The senator is able to escape, but Kopechne drowns. The rest of the film centers around the public scrutiny and attempt to cover up the details of this tragedy.
With Chappaquiddick, Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan constructed a narrative which puts entirely too much focus on the parties involved in the incident and not on the most interesting person, the incredibly flawed Ted Kennedy. Ed Helms and Jim Gaffigan play Markham and Joseph Gargan, trusted advisors to the Kennedy family. However, audiences will have little interest in whether or not Joseph was his closest friend or was there for him in his hour of need. Curran’s film certainly touches on the issue of morality but should have focused squarely on Clarke’s character. What type of person justifies walking away from an accident scene knowing full well their passenger is unaccounted for?
Because most moviegoers who pay to see Chappaquiddick are likely already familiar with the story, the film feels like it moves at an excruciatingly slow pace. Curran feels the need to switch the focus from person to person in the storyline to gauge each reaction as the events unfold. After a while, audiences will become disinterested, as the most interesting player in this tale sparsely contributes. The cinematography is lackluster as well, neglecting the beauty of the island and shooting the actual crash from a distance which made the audience reaction ho-hum.
Clarke’s performance is the lone highlight in Chappaquiddick. He brings such intensity and depth to a role which was poorly written, but he makes the film tolerable. Seeing the pain he projects on the screen perfectly illustrates how much of a missed opportunity the movie is. Instead, we are left with an average at best retelling of a particularly dark moment for one of America’s most famous families.Chappaquiddick is hardly anything worth rushing out for.