THREE AND A HALF STARS While John Kennedy's legacy lands on the moon, his brother Ted is involved in a car accident.
Jason Clarke, Kate Mara
PERIOD DRAMA #CHAPPAQUIDDICK
In 1969, while the world’s attention was turned to landing on the moon and the legacy of John F. Kennedy, his brother Senator Ted Kennedy had other things on his mind. Here was a man desperate to forge his own future and climb out of the shadow of his siblings John, Joe and Bob, not to mention the ferocious disapproval of his father Joe Snr. But Ted had an unhappy way of bumbling into things and none more bumbling or unhappy than when his car overturned on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts.
Classy direction by Australia’s John Curran ensures CHAPPAQUIDDICK its very watchable, albeit in a bloodless sort of way. There’s a certain deer-in-the-headlights to Kennedy’s response to the accident which threatens to derail his political career (and that of his family with it), and fellow Australian Jason Clarke (ZERO DARK THIRTY) as the senator is on point with Curran’s vision. As Kennedy’s minders move in to control the situation it’s clear that few have any respect for their employer - his responses vary between odd and foolish (such as an unnecessary neck-brace worn to earn sympathy with press and the people. It didn’t.) that simply make their jobs harder. Although paralysed, near-dead and extremely angry, Joe Snr is still the man calling the shots.
CHAPPAQUIDDICK is, on one hand, an intriguing account of an incident that took place nearly 50 years ago. It’s also a curious coming-of-age tale about a man-boy (Ted was 37 at the time) still trying to work out his place in the world. On both counts Curran does a great job evoking the spirit of the day and the sense of place - the Camelot dream was still alive and the Kennedys remained a potent currency - that makes the story even more compelling.
Yet it’s a story told from a distance which stills much of the fire in its belly. This should be high emotion and hysteria given the fallout of Ted’s accident. You want to get deep inside and be thrown about by the chaos. Instead we sit observing the tragedy unfold, much as you might on the news, and it’s not the ideal position from which to be watching. It doesn’t derail Curran’s film, far from it: CHAPPAQUIDDICK is much too smart, too striking, too good for that. But there’s a brake, a coyness with the truth, a tidiness that ultimately stops you from enjoying it as much as you want to.