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Chappaquiddick Review - Powerful, True Life Drama Resonates

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Chappaquiddick, from Apex Entertainment and Entertainment Studios, presents the true story of the death of, Robert F. Kennedy secretary, Mary Jo Kopechne who drowned when Senator Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge landing in the cold waters off Chappaquiddick Island.

Directed by John Curran, Chappaquiddick stars Kate Mara, Jason Clarke, Ed Helms, Bruce Dern, Taylor Nichols, Clancy McNamara, David De Beck, Jim Gaffigan, John Fiore, Olivia Thirlby, Andria Blackman, Sarah Elizabeth Mitchell, Charlotte Anne Dore, Tim Jackson. Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan wrote the screenplay.

Chappaquiddick begins on Friday, July 18, 1969, with a reunion of sorts, Senator Ted Kennedy, played by Jason Clarke, family friend Joe Gargan, played by Ed Helms, Paul Markham, played by Jim Gaffigan, the current U.S. Attorney For the District of Massachusetts, were all gathered on Martha's Vineyard, the summer home of Boston's intellectual community, political dynasty's, entertainers and none more famous than the Kennedy's.


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By 1969, John F. Kennedy had been lost in Dallas, Robert F. Kennedy, murdered just over a year earlier in June 1968, and today, the annual Chappaquiddick Regatta, had these three old friends attempting to outmaneuver the others.

By evening the cottage was filled with the Boiler Girls, an affectionate name for former secretary's for Robert F. Kennedy. Essentially they were campaign directors, making it happen from behind the scenes, Mary Jo Kopechne, played by Kate Mara, was deeply effected by Bobby's murder and went home to New Jersey to run a local campaign and accepted the invitation to reunite on the Vineyard.

Expectations were that Ted would run for President in 1972, and the real reason for the weekend, other than reuniting and watching Jack Kennedy's vision of new frontiers being realized as the world watched Apollo 11 land on the moon, was of course to gather those closest to the ideals and reform the team.

Mary Jo was such an integral part of the Boiler Room that no one could see Ted running his campaign without her. After one too many drinks Ted, decided he could convince her to come back to the big leagues from local Jersey City politics, offered to drive her to the ferry.

As the hours went by, the two friends were rehashing Bobby's plans, and the hopes for the nation and the last ferry was leaving. Ted, a little too drunk, and accustomed to entitled treatment, was driving erratically, on a part of Chappaquiddick that he was not familiar with and went to drive across a narrow, single lane bridge, with no guardrail, and missed, driving right off the side of the bridge.

The car flipped, and he managed to escape through the driver's side window which was down when they went into the water.

After sitting on the edge of the pond for a short time, he walked back to the cottage he told Joe and Paul who tried to rescue Mary Jo who was long dead. After beginning the spin, the three agreed he would report the crime.

It would be ten hours before he would follow their advice and report the crash.

What follows defines the crisis spin team and in actuality defined a man's career.

With all that said, as this is a true story, and nearly at the fifty year mark, I must say Chappaquiddick is gripping.  It is powerful and resonates.

Chappaquiddick, for me, portrays Senator Ted Kennedy, who went on to be the fourth longest serving senator in United States history, as a coward. Entitled by wealth and position, he did exactly what he was told by his father, Joseph, portrayed by Bruce Dern, who give a shocking attention-grabbing performance as the stroke disabled patriarch of this powerful political dynasty.

The scenes with the Spin Doctors who arrive before the Senator and are awaiting each with their brand of expertise is a tribute to crisis management firms and teams everywhere. These powerful pillars of politics, communications, public relations are masters to watch.

The ups and downs of attempting to beat the clock, wait out the weekend deadlines (before the advent of digital) and of course the most famous event put the death of a Kennedy staffer, even in the car of the Senator buried deep, as Apollo 11 lands safely and with the words spoken by Neil Armstrong on Sunday, July 20, 1969, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," Ted Kennedy's responsibility ended up a distance second, they thought.


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The cast from the beginning right through the televised polish at the very end, embodies the days, times, seasons and events with riveting performances. The film personifies the dynamics of when power and privilege clash.

Powerful, sharp, surprising, Chappaquiddick is thoroughly absorbing and captivating from the beginning.

Chappaquiddick opens April 5, 2018. See this film.

 

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