Chappaquiddick

The historical lens doesn’t hold up in this flick.

Courtesy Photo

Inundated with thousands of films released throughout the year, a critic must apply emergency room triage procedures to decide which movies get reviewed now—and which must wait for later in the year to be seen. 

These critical decisions shouldn’t normally be too difficult to make until awards season arrives with a tsunami of winners each September. This past week, though, I was torn between reviewing the political hot potato “Chappaquiddick” and the scary thriller “A Quiet Place”. In hindsight, “A Quiet Place” delivers a higher uptick in entertainment value for moviegoers.

“Chappaquiddick” offers an unremarkable, and often boring, time capsule into the American political landscape back in July of 1969. President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert, both slain by assassin bullets—leaving their brother—Massachusetts’ U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy—the last member of the iconic family to run for U.S. president. With his presidential candidacy all but a foregone conclusion, tragedy strikes Kennedy as a 28-year old Mary Jo Kopechne is found dead in the backseat of his vehiclesubmerged after an accident in the waters off Chappaquiddick Island, located on the eastern end of Martha’s Vineyard.

I was disappointed in “Chappaquiddick” for two reasons. The pace of this story is too deliberate. A sloth-like speed most of the time disarms the audience and seriousness of the crime committed. 

Perhaps it’s because I’m familiar with this tragic event from history books in grade school and the “Kennedy curse” endured by this American dynasty over the last six decades. Or, maybe, the film’s lack of a deep dive into Kennedy and his powerful surname never translates into empathy for Teddy’s dire circumstances or the victim of his deadly mistake—the young Kopechne. Rather, there is a wanting for justice to be finally served to the guilty. Instead, only a self-imposed political delay curtails Teddy’s presidential aspirations by a few election periods.

The movie’s effectiveness is also muted by our culture’s 24/7 news cycle of “gotcha politics” spewed from within media’s narrative for ratings. Today’s dirty politics of personal destruction at any cost has left voters numbed since Gary Hart’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1988. Now, candidates have upped their political game through leaked talking points, flame-throwing on-air advocates, dishonest opposition research, and a skilled ability to rapidly circle of the wagons. All to change, deflect or manipulate the news headlines.

Viewers with any prior knowledge regarding the circumstances surrounding “Chappaquiddick” and the Kennedy clan will be left disappointed that the film didn’t uncover more details. It only reinforced the belief that American politics needs to continually seek out fresh, untainted souls to guide this great nation. 

“Chappaquiddick” reinforces the notion that American politics needs to never go back to the presidential tree and select a Bush, Clinton, or Kennedy offspring. Likewise, moviegoers may want to forego this film altogether and go see “A Quiet Place.” That’s a campaign I can get behind.

Grade: C-

Patrick King is a resident of Tucson and writer for the Reel Brief movie blog at reelbrief.com.  Email him at reelbriefmoviereviews@mail.com.

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