There were the occasional hints that it had something deeper to say, but it seemed to shy aggressively away from pursuing them.
If the goal was to convey that politicians are slimy, two-faced liars who only care for themselves (shocking), then I suppose it did its job, but a riveting film it is not.
We'll never know exactly what happened, but this well-crafted, insightful and persuasive movie does a convincing job of recreating that night and the shifty cover-up that came next. A painfully realistic portrait of a tragedy that is too often viewed through a political prism.
Chappaquiddick is an unsolved murder mystery constructed around a dull and indolent killer pursued by blind detectives and mute prosecutors. The identity of the killer is well known, the only question is whether it was murder or an accident.
Either way, this movie is the portrait of a criminal mastermind. He is introduced by gurgles and groans delivered by phone. He is almost entirely debilitated and appears rarely, his name is rarely spoken, but he has predetermined almost every action of almost every individual. Chappaquiddick is essentially Is a portrait of Joe Kennedy.
The sire was so powerful and so ruthless that he established a permanent dynasty. The Kennedy brand survived the deaths of the three talented, dedicated brothers. It was so strong that it continued to survive when Joe, mean as ever, was almost entirely incapacitated by a stroke. It survived regardless of what the remaining Kennedy brother did or did not do. The youngest brother was indolent and incompetent. He rarely took responsibility, rarely took action, and when he did, it was, despite his having the best advisors available, often ill advised. His family, his community and his party all acted as his custodians, advisors and agents working on behalf of the Kennedy name.
The press is shown to be relatively independent, but it can only report what the community reveals. Everyone has been trained to play their parts, to resist changing the script. Only the killer himself, though a combination of arrogance and contrition, leaks the truth.
Joe names him head of the family, but by doing so, he does not show confidence or transfer power. Ted is a drone - essential, but inconsequential. His swarm dutifully stanches the leaks.
Ted represents the Kennedys to everyone but his father and cousin Joe, and they alone oppose him. They attack him for besmirching the name and the ideals it represents. Joe Kennedy, despite his frailty, and perhaps his love, gathers all his strength to strike him, and Joe Gargan, believing him to be hopelessly shameful, brings all his powers of persuasion to excise him from the political stage, feeling his success would so taint the Kennedy brand with mediocrity and mendacity that Gargan could no longer wish to be a part of it.
The story offers, and even illustrates, alternative points of view, but in the end, only the official version survives. It reveals enough flaws to seem plausible, but conceals what would be fatal to the brand. It acknowledges that Edward might have impregnated Kopechne, might have killed her to prevent the revelation from destroying his political career and, more importantly, the Kennedy legacy, but in the end, we, the filmmakers and the audience, prefer to believe otherwise. The remaining evidence of the crime proves that Ted lacked character, lacked leadership ability or even basic decency. Whether this derived from spoiled rotten stupidity or the temporary shock of being rocketed into a leadership position while depressed by the deaths of his brothers, is an open question. He continued to extend the Kennedy legacy to the end of his long life. Presumably, he found himself - gained control - at some point, but it is clear that in July of 1969, he was little more than a stiff and bloated puppet.
Chappaquiddick was an excellent - if uncompelling - portrayal of an historic event. The main character shows little character. The actor portraying him bears some resemblance in terms of facial features, but he is not obese, speaks with no accent and slurs no words. Must we infer drunkenness from glimpses of empty beer cans, as we do obesity from the view of a back brace? Are we to assume the actor is incapable of portraying inebriation, or are we to suspect Ted was sober? This actor appears to have been chosen for his ability to seem dull, but there are brief moments when he shows vigor and determination. Like the character he plays, he may find himself in later roles.
This particular telling of the tragedy is a compelling one with solid acting all around but I'm not convinced it's particularly memorable. Jason Clarke makes a great Teddy but I almost wish this had been an episode within a TV miniseries covering his entire life rather than a single film painting a particularly bleak picture of the man from a single week of his life.