“Beyond what you know. Beyond what you hear. The truth will finally surface.” Despite its publicity’s insistence to the contrary, there are no new revelations in Chappaquiddick, John Curran’s restrained dramatization of the events of the weekend of July 18th, 1969, when Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, 37, drove his Oldsmobile 88 off a narrow wooden bridge into Chappaquiddick Island’s Poucha Pond, leaving his driving companion, 28-year-old staffer Mary Jo Kopechne, to drown. Nobody really expected any latter-day reveals, of course—the only people who really know what happened that night are no longer with us. But the events of that ill-fated weekend still make for a compelling period drama and they’re starkly and soberly told, played out to the subtlest of scores by Garth Stevenson that dramatizes the mystery (many questions remain unanswered to this day, of course, including whether or not Kennedy was even behind the wheel!). Screenwriters Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan have based their concise script on the transcript of the inquest released in 1970 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, a meaty 763-page document that most of us haven’t had a chance to read. Also strong is the cast, especially Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), whose conflicted “Lion of the Senate” vacillates between doing the right thing and doing what’s right for the Kennedys, bullied along by his infirm yet still overbearing father, Joe (a scary, wheelchair-bound Bruce Dern). Ed Helms, as Kennedy’s cousin and guilt-ridden attorney, Joe Gargan, is also excellent as is Kate Mara in a much smaller role as Kopechne, one of six single “Boiler Room Girls” in attendance at a drinking party arranged by five married men. The good people of Massachusetts—who are shown giving Ted the benefit of the doubt in newsreel footage at the film’s conclusion—re-elected Senator Teddy the very next year, but Kennedy delayed his bid for president eight years because of the scandal, and was ultimately defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1980 primary. On that summer night in 1969, after Mary Jo Kopechne died, Kennedy’s first words to his cronies were, “I’m not going to be president.” At least he told the truth about that.
(c) 2018 David N. Butterworth