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60 Second Verdict: Chappaquiddick

60 Second Verdict: Chappaquiddick

60 Second Verdict: Chappaquiddick

19 May 2018

Australian actor Jason Clarke plays Ted Kennedy in this drama, Chappaquiddick, based on a true story.

By Mark Hadley

On the same weekend as astronauts first landed on the moon in 1969, the brother of John F Kennedy crashed a car on Chappaquiddick Island and caused a young woman’s death. Yes, Senator Ted Kennedy was drunk, at the wheel, and didn’t report the “incident” for about 10 hours. During the following week, his private, public and political lives crash into a high-profile case of potential cover-up.

WHAT’S GOOD

Australian actor Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) does a sturdy job as the younger Kennedy whose response to an awful tragedy is puzzling, lamentable and offensive. Best known as a comedian, Ed Helms (The Hangover) does a bang up job as Kennedy cousin and lawyer Joseph Gargan. Basically, he’s the movie’s conscience, calling on Kennedy to seize this horrible business as a chance at integrity, not face-saving opportunity. The production team’s commendable attention to detail – on screen and in the script – means Chappaquiddick barely strays beyond trying to depict events and those involved.

WHAT’S NOT

As Chappaquiddick proves to be such a detached study of self-preservation versus doing the right thing, it only politely asks for any viewing response. Corruption of power is effortlessly on show in this fictionalised drama, but the strong focus on events – and less on what lay beneath or behind them – causes it to register as oddly empty. A bit like Ted Kennedy himself, whose life in the shadow of his illustrious brothers also is not used to substantially enlighten this dark, one-dimensional account.

SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING

Some of the movie’s meatiest moral moments come in the final minutes. As Ted Kennedy prepares for a national televised broadcast, to speak to the American people about the “incident”, Joseph Gargan pleads with him. “This is not about opportunity; this is about integrity,” he summarises for Kennedy. The Senator’s response is a self comparison with Bible heavyweights Moses and Peter, equating their reactions to terrible events with his own. Yes, he goes there. What’s most breathtaking is the misunderstanding Kennedy appears to have of what God called Moses and Peter to, and how their responses weren’t always as God would have liked. But Moses and Peter did work at seeking after what God would have them be and do – and that’s a far cry from the self-absorbed behaviour Kennedy continued with after the shocking death he caused.

Chappaquiddick is M rated and opens 10 May.

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