Chappaquiddick

CHAPPAQUIDDICK DROWNS MORE THAN MARY JO KOPECHNE
The Kennedy curse may have accounted for the death of the first Kennedy son and the assassination of the next two Kennedys, but not for what happened to Ted Kennedy (played by Jason Clarke) on the night of July 18, 1969. At 11 p.m., after a party with a lot of drinking, Ted drives Mary (Kate Mara) off the island of Chappaquiddick toward the Martha Vineyard section of Cape Cod onto a bridge with no side rails at an excessive speed, and the car upends into the shallow waters below. Ted escapes, but Mary is trapped and dies because Ted fails to summon help. Ted then goes on foot to find help, but “help” means that his closest adviser, Joseph Gargan (Ed Helms) tells him that he must immediately report the accident to the police. But his first statement is “I’m not going to be president,” and his first telephone call is to his father, 81-year-old Joe (Bruce Dern), who says “alibi.” While Mary is still alive, capable of being rescued, Ted is thinking of his own ambition and tries to sleep off the stress. But Ted was DUI, had not renewed his driver’s license, engaged in hit-and-run, and at first wants to blame Mary for the accident. Ten hours go by before he reports the accident at the police station, where he writes a statement of what happened before the police chief returns from the scene of the accident. Ted’s coterie of advisers and a swarm of news reporters soon descend. The advisers try to get Ted’s license renewed and engage in even more dirty tricks, notably cooking up a story that Ted had a concussion and his physician prescribed tranquilizers, which New York Times senior reporter Scotty Reston (Bill Humphreys) challenges because tranquilizers would kill someone after a concussion. Ted, trying to keep up appearances, decides to wear a neck brace to Mary‘s funeral but looks around the church, proving that the brace is literally part of the cover-up. When charges are brought, Ted pleads guilty to the odd offense of leaving the scene of an accident, gets a suspended sentence of two months of jail and one year’s probation. Finally, Ted reads a statement of explanation on primetime TV, asking for the voters of Massachusetts to decide on his fate at the ballot box. Although voters are supportive, his attorney Gargan realizes that his client has not only failed to heed his advice but has proved that his ambition has drowned his integrity, packs up, and departs. Ted’s wife Joan (Andria Blackman) badmouths him in a cameo appearance and in 1982 divorces him, and Ted’s father also loses respect for his son. Joe dies four months later according to titles at the end. Meanwhile, CNN is running a weekly series on the Kennedy Dynasty that has not yet reached that point in the narrative, leaving TV viewers much wiser about a scandal that was cleverly resolved but impressed two screenwriters, who inspired director John Curran to set the record straight. The Political Film Society has nominated Chappaquiddick as the best film exposé of 2018.  MH