Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Chappaquiddick


The Kennedy political dynasty is an abstract idea to people of my generation. The idea of a family with that much political clout is something I can't get into my head. The only thing comparable is the Royal family of the UK and that makes no sense to me either. People just should not have that much influence and power at their fingertips. Power. Power always corrupts.

July 1969. Martha's Vineyard. Senator Ted (Edward) Kennedy was a man who walked in the shadows of his brothers, John and Bobby, two men murdered in political office. Ted is about to start his run for the U.S. presidential office of 1972. Whilst Ted and his cousin Joe were on Chappaquiddick Island for a boat race a party was organised to bring back together the people who ran his brother Bobby's ill fated campaign, specifically the Boiler Room Girls, a group of women integral to the running of operations. One of them was Mary Joe Kopechne and on the night of July 18th she took an infamous car ride with Ted. What happened next changed the course of U.S. political history.



I liked this. It's a fascinating and disturbing look at the behind the scenes machinations of a political scandal and a timely one too. We see how a man's reputation will always, ALWAYS, be more important than the victims of a scandal. Look at the recent Belfast trials for example. And when the victim is a woman, forget about it, she just becomes a detail in the story. It's a look at what power can do to a person's psyche. The arrogance it creates, the egotistical effect it has and how it effects other people's perceptions. The Kennedy's were treated like gold in Martha's Vineyard and seeing elected officials dropping and lapping at their feet is cringeworthy. For all it's political griminess a few sly moments of black comedy appear here and there too. Seeing Ted and his gang of slimy bagmen's plans fail at every hurdle adds a nice and much needed tang of schadenfreude to proceedings.

Jason Clarke is excellent as Ted. He mightn't look exactly like him but he carries himself in that almost regal Kennedy way we've all seen on Reeling In The Years. He also affects that same New England accent he used so effectively as Tommy Caffee on TV's massively underrated Brotherhood. It's a great, layered performance from him, even when you think he's being sincere it only takes seconds to clock the machinery whirring behind his eyes. Everything is about self preservation. He carries the movie powerfully. Kate Mara as Mary Jo plays a smaller but vital part too. Her good heart radiating through and her hurt over the death of Bobby Kennedy plain to see. It's easy to see why she became a vital cog in the political machine. The usually annoying Ed Helms takes a rare serious role as Kennedy family fixer and relative Joe Gargan and does well and Bruce Dern in a small part radiates poison as the patriarch of the family Joseph P. Kennedy. History told us he was a nasty piece of work and here in a few small moments we clearly see how his venomous presence ruined his children.



Only one person really knew what happened that night and because of this the film plays out along the lines of Ted's testimony. It avoids sensationalism and the sleazier aspects of the story that the press of the day hinted at. We see exactly what he says he did following the events of the night. Some comments about this film have called it tame and afraid of conjecture but for me this simple and sober retreading of events shows him up for the coward he was. There's no need for extraneous story or fabrication. He hung himself with his own words.

This is a fine film and one well worth watching. It's just a pity it didn't make it to cinema's here.

Available on Region 1 DVD/Region A blu-ray now & streaming from Amazon.com

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