July 9, 2018  (Web Review)

Chappaquiddick

Lionsgate, 106 min., PG-13, DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray/DVD Combo: $39.99, July 10

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

First used in 1954, the term “affluenza” refers to an inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions due to financial privilege. That, plus Kennedy arrogance, explains why Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s hopes of becoming President of the United States sank on July 18, 1969. Many moviegoers under the age of 40 are probably unfamiliar with the sordid story: on that night—just as Apollo 11 was headed towards the Moon—Ted Kennedy drove his Oldsmobile off a small bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts. He escaped but left 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne to slowly suffocate/drown in the submerged car. Basing their pulpy, procedural melodrama on testimony during the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court inquest, screenwriters Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan establish the time, place, and characters but never ignite the situation’s emotionality, as John Curran’s methodical, heavy-handed direction details Kennedy’s infuriatingly irresponsible and incredibly selfish passivity during and after the calamity. How much had Kennedy been drinking? Was he having an affair with Mary Jo? And why did he wait 8-10 hours before reporting the accident? These questions are never addressed here, although Kennedy and his cousin Joe Gargan note that without Bobby Kennedy’s young, unmarried “Boiler Room Girls,” there would have been no Martha’s Vineyard party the night of the tragedy. The physical resemblance between actor Jason Clarke and Kennedy is striking, and Bruce Dern is ferocious as the stroke-stricken, yet still-cunning patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy, whose only advice to his youngest son is one word: “alibi.” Perhaps speechwriter Ted Sorenson (Taylor Nichols) put it best: “History has the final word on these things.” What Chappaquiddick does do, however, is underscore how justice is very different for the rich and powerful. A strong optional purchase. [Note: DVD/Blu-ray extras include the production featurettes “A Reckoning: Revisiting Chappaquiddick” (26 min.) and “Bridge to the Past: Editing the Film” (13 min.). Exclusive to the Blu-ray release are bonus DVD, UltraViolet, and digital copies of the film. Bottom line: a solid extras package for a dramatically flawed but interesting film.] (S. Granger)