Nick's Picks: Chappaquiddick
The story of one of the biggest scandals in the history of American politics is told by Pittsford resident and director John Curran in his new feature film, Chappaquiddick.
With Australian actor Jason Clark playing the lead role of Ted Kennedy, this film explores the night of Kennedy's car crash into a channel on Chappaquiddick Island that led to the death of his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, his failure to report the accident until the next morning, the immediate aftermath, subsequent cover up, and resulting legacy.
Curran, a film veteran with seven directorial credits and experience working with stars like Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, and Naomi Watts, was at first hesitant to take on his first political story.
"I was worried about it being a one-dimensional hit piece," says Curran. "It's a tough subject and I'm a fan of Teddy Kennedy but the script I read was very balanced, nuanced, and compelling."
After digesting the script written by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, Curran felt further inspired to direct Chappaquiddick by our most recent presidential election and his desire to see more accountability in politics.
"During the primary season of 2016 I recognized that we were embroiled with scandals on both sides of the aisle and I was kind of disgusted that I was even hesitant to tell this story," says Curran. "It's been fifty years since it happened and ten years since Teddy died, I felt like it was time to reexamine this chapter in his life as part of his legacy, both the good and bad."
Kennedy's complicated ethos is nailed by Clarke. The 48-year-old actor, who has a shocking physical resemblance to Kennedy, displays a complex, confused, unconfident character who is at times sympathetic and at times incredibly vain.
Through interactions shown between Kennedy and his father Joe, played by Bruce Dern, the audience sees the massive familial and existential pressure on Ted. How these pressures manifest themselves, in the case of Chappaquiddick at least, are a lack of empathy and responsibility for the death of Kopecchne.
Clarke is surrounded by a cast of brilliant supporting actors including Kate Mara, who gives Kopechne a strong personality and depth that is absent in the reporting and retellings of this tragedy where she is only a footnote. Kennedy's right-hand men Joseph Durgan and Paul Markham are played by Ed Helms and Jim Gaffigan respectively. These traditionally comedic actors exhibit strong dramatic chops while providing the occasional deadpan, dark humor present in Chappaquiddick's script.
Overall, through remarkable acting, quick, thoughtful dialogue, deft storytelling, and efficient pacing, Chappaquiddick succeeds as an entertaining film and historical anecdote, one that Curran hopes can inspire a conversation about modern day politics.
"There's a lot of right-wing people that are going to embrace this film and use it as a tool to beat up the left, but that's not why I made it—I'm a left-leaning democrat," says Curran. "To encourage the discussion on the right, the left has to challenge our own candidates and hold them to the same high standards we expect the right to."
Chappaquiddick is in theaters now.
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