Adam Aasen’s review published on Letterboxd:
One moment can change the course of history and in the case of the Kennedy family — eternally destined for greatness — these moments were usually tragic ones.
Joe Kennedy, the patriarch of the political dynasty, thought he would be president but his indifference to the actions of Adolph Hitler leading up to WWII left his presidential resume lacking.
His oldest son Joe Jr. died in that war and it was his next oldest son Jack that took the White House, only to be killed in a national tragedy.
His next oldest son, Bobby, ran for president only to be shot and killed as well.
So the movie “Chappaquiddick” begins with Ted Kennedy, the youngest biological son and the last one living in 1969. He’s a senator from Massachusetts in his brother Jack’s seat and the frontrunner for the democratic nomination for president in 1972 to challenge incumbent Richard Nixon. He’s feeling the pressure to carry on the family legacy.
But on a night on Chappaquiddick Island, everything changed.
After leaving a party, Ted drove his car off a bridge that night. Passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, an RFK campaign worker, drowned in the car and Kennedy swam to safety. He went back to his room and reported the accident 9 hours later. Those are the facts.
Now, there have always been several unanswered questions about that night. Why didn’t Kennedy report the crime earlier? Had he been drinking? Was it a political coverup or an innocent accident?
Director John Curran’s film speculates on some of those questions and it definitely takes the stance that Kennedy was far from innocent. In the movie, he lies to protect his political career but he still feels shame and guilt over what happened. It’s not a flat, one-dimensional retelling. Jason Clarke — an underrated actor — plays Ted Kennedy with poise, depth and dimension. He should be remembered come awards season for his nuanced portrayal of the political icon.
This movie has a great supporting cast. Ed Helms, mostly known for comedic roles in “The Office,” “The Daily Show” and “The Hangover, shines in a prominent supporting role. Kate Mara has a small but powerful role. Even Jim Gaffigan, an Indiana-native stand-up comedian known for his Hot-Pockets jokes, shows up in a dramatic role.
This is going to be a hard film for some because Ted Kennedy is a man that political junkies either love or hate. Despite this scandal, many democrats revere Kennedy for fighting for liberal causes for decades in the senate and many republicans don’t care for him because of his personal shortcomings and his liberal policies. Going into this movie, I wondered whether it would be a politically slanted movie that aimed to remind people of the scandals of the Kennedy family to appeal to conservative moviegoers. In fact, I believe some left-leaning movie critics, namely the Los Angeles Times, have been unfairly harsh to this movie for this reason.
Regardless of your political beliefs, I believe this is a well-crafted film. While it might not skyrocket to the level of a Best Picture contender, I was intrigued the entire time and if you’re interested in this story I’d give it a recommendation. I also believe that democrats and republicans can both enjoy this fairly neutral retelling of what likely occurred.
My dad even laughed a few times and suggested that the movie was a “dark comedy.” I think my dad just has a dark sense of humor.
Overall, if this looked like something that appealed to you, I’d say trust your gut and go see it. It’s actually better than the trailer suggests and while it might not convert those who have no interest in political history, it should make those interest in the subject very entertained.