David Stratton

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Ja­son Clarke, who hails from Win­ton, Queens­land, and who cut his act­ing teeth in Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion and films from the mid-1990s, gives a tow­er­ing per­for­mance as the ill-fated Teddy Kennedy in Chap­paquid­dick, a sober­ing in­sight into the 1969 tragedy that changed the course of Amer­ica. Clarke not only looks a bit like Kennedy but sounds like him too — I’m no ex­pert on ac­cents, but that dis­tinc­tive Boston drawl sounds ex­actly right. It is more than an im­per­son­ation: Clarke nails the char­ac­ter of the man, the deeply flawed, woe­fully in­ad­e­quate younger brother of two great men.

In the summer of 1969, Ed­ward Kennedy, US sen­a­tor for Mas­sachusetts, was still walk­ing in the shadow of his as­sas­si­nated broth­ers, pres­i­dent John Kennedy, mur­dered in 1963, and for­mer at­tor­ney-gen­eral and pres­i­den­tial hope­ful Robert Kennedy, mur­dered in 1968. The na­tion as­sumed that Teddy would run against Nixon for the pres­i­dency in 1972, though there were un­der­stand­able fears that, given the fate of his broth­ers, his life might also be in dan­ger. As it turned out, Teddy’s worst enemy was him­self.

On July 18, just a few hours be­fore the land­ing on the moon, Teddy was at­tend­ing the an­nual regatta in Martha’s Vine­yard, close to the small is­land of Chap­paquid­dick, where the Kennedy fam­ily owned a cot­tage. There was a party at­mos­phere. Twelve Kennedy staffers who had worked on Bobby’s cam­paign had gath­ered for a re­union. Half of them were un­mar­ried women in their 20s, known as “the Boiler Room girls”, and the other half were older mar­ried men. Among them was 28-yearold Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara), who had worked as a sec­re­tary for Bobby Kennedy but had left Wash­ing­ton af­ter his as­sas­si­na­tion. Teddy — ac­cord­ing to the film — was keen to per­suade her to re­turn and work for him.

Writ­ers Tay­lor Allen and An­drew Lo­gan, for their first pro­duced screen­play, have imag­ined what hap­pened dur­ing that night and its aftermath. What’s de­scribed in the film is con­jec­ture, but it rings bru­tally true. Teddy was drink­ing too much — whiskey, straight from the bot­tle — yet he vol­un­teered to drive Mary Jo back to where she was stay­ing.

Did he have a sex­ual mo­tive? Pos­si­bly, even prob­a­bly, but the film doesn’t dwell too much on this. At any rate, he took pains to avoid a lo­cal cop pa­trolling the area, pre­sum­ably not want­ing to be seen alone with an at­trac­tive young woman who was not his wife but also be­cause he feared his driver’s li­cence might have ex­pired. Then, in a his­tory-defin­ing split sec­ond of inat­ten­tion, he drove off the wooden Chap­paquid­dick Bridge into shal­low wa­ter.

Kennedy man­aged to ex­tri­cate him­self from the over­turned and partly sub­merged car and, af­ter the most desul­tory attempt to see what had hap­pened to Mary Jo, headed back to his lodg­ings on foot. At the cot­tage he en­coun­tered his cousin, and lawyer, Joe Gar­gan (Ed Helms) Chap­paquid­dick (M) Na­tional re­lease from Thurs­day On Body and Soul (Te­strol es lelekrol) (tbc) Lim­ited re­lease from Thurs­day and told him: “We’ve got a prob­lem.” Gar­gan and another close friend, Paul Markham (Jim Gaf­fi­gan), who was at­tor­ney-gen­eral of Mas­sachusetts, ad­vised him to re­port the mat­ter im­me­di­ately, but in­stead he went to bed and didn’t re­port the ac­ci­dent un­til the fol­low­ing day. By the time he fi­nally made a re­port to the lo­cal sher­iff, traces of al­co­hol would no longer have shown up in his sys­tem.

The film makes no bones about the fact that Kennedy acted in a cow­ardly and ir­re­spon­si­ble fash­ion, and that Mary Jo’s life might have been saved if the ac­ci­dent had been re­ported im­me­di­ately. It’s also clear that the brains trust of lawyers and fix­ers who con­verged on Martha’s Vine­yard the fol­low­ing day knew ex­actly what they were do­ing — their No 1 aim was to pro­tect their man and, in the process, help con­ceal a felony.

Among those present were some very dis­tin­guished po­lit­i­cal fig­ures from the Demo­cratic Party, in­clud­ing Kennedy speech­writer Ted Sorensen (Tay­lor Ni­chols) and for­mer sec­re­tary of state Robert McNa­mara (Clancy Brown). Over­shad­ow­ing them all in terms of ruth­less­ness is the aged, crip­pled pa­tri­arch of

Ja­son Clarke, right, as Teddy Kennedy in

Chap­paquid­dick; the real car in which pas­sen­ger Mary Jo Kopechne was killed in 1969 is raised from the wa­ter, in­set

Alexan­dra Bor­bely as Maria in Ildiko Enyedi’s On Body and Soul

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