Don’t miss Chappaquiddick!

The movie Chappaquiddick exceeded my very high expectations.  Not only is it a truthful exploration of the events that led up the death of May Jo Kopechne and the criminal cover-up of Ted Kennedy's culpability therein, but it goes deep into the character of the man and how he got to the depraved state of indifference to the life of a young woman who had devoted herself to "the cause" of the Kennedy family.

One of the huge and pleasant surprises was the way in which, from its opening moments, the film delved in the family dynamics of the brood Joe Kennedy spawned.  Ted Kennedy comes across as the product of his father, whose ruthlessness – even following a debilitating stroke – comes through as the progenitor of the warped character of his son.

Jason Clarke, who plays Teddy, is nothing less than superb.  If the character he so fully entered into were a conservative Republican, he would almost certainly earn the best actor Oscar.  Ted Kennedy, although a knave, is presented sympathetically – in the sense that we see why he behaved as he did.  His weaknesses play out on his face as he confronts the challenges arising from his own poor choices.

I was delighted with the performance of Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne.  She was presented not as a cardboard character, but as a fully human idealist, who had attached herself to the aura of the Kennedy family and, after Bobby's assassination, was left with just Teddy as the vehicle for what was called "the cause" a few times during the movie, the cause being the charisma of the Kennedys.

Another great and pleasant surprise was the role of Joe Gargan, as portrayed by Ed Helm.  Gargan was a Kennedy cousin, orphaned and adopted by Joe and Rose, who was sometimes treated as a brother by Ted but more often as a flunky charged with cleaning up the messes left by the real Kennedy brother.  His character felt and dealt with the moral problems of having abandoned the wreck while Mary Jo remained alive, breathing in the air bubble trapped in the car with her, until the oxygen was exhausted and she died hours later, while Ted slept in his hotel room, mouth shut.

The process of the cover-up is laid out in fascinating detail, revealing the ruthlessness of the Kennedy family coterie of high-powered advisers, especially Ted Sorenson and Robert McNamara.  I could not help but reflect on the resonance with the Deep State issues of today are echoed by the way that the laws and procedures and professional responsibilities of the government officials dealing with the car wreck and the corpse meant nothing to them in the face of "the cause" of protecting the Kennedys.  The local, state, and federal officials we see are a kind of Kennedy Deep State that had absolute control over the handling of the matter.

Lastly, Bruce Dern's portrayal of Joe Kennedy will forever change the way I think about this man, who was a fixer behind the scenes on Wall Street before he turned to government as the instrument of his search for power and wealth.  I won't spoil the surprises, but Joe has the best line in the movie, and it is only one word, spoken on the telephone to Teddy as the weakling son, the "runt of the litter," came crying to Daddy to rescue him.

Do yourself a favor and see this movie as soon as you can.

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