FIRST LOOK: An Apolitical Thriller that Can't Help Placing Sen. Ted Kennedy in a Damnable Context

Updated 31 weeks ago by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
FIRST LOOK: An Apolitical Thriller that Can't Help Placing Sen. Ted Kennedy in a Damnable Context

  "I saw Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke)  and Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) walk out the door,”  Nance Lyons said at an inquest six month after the tragic events at Chappaquiddick which took Mary Jo's life and forever branded the young Senator."  They were attending a party where alcoholic beverages were served at a reunion of "the boiler room girls" who worked the phones and wrangled party delegates  for Bobby Kennedy before his assassination.

“We continued talking and singing,”Nana's testimony continued like the 28 year old woman leaving with the Senator was no big deal. 

But it would be. After presumed campaign talk near a bridge, Kennedy's car fell off the span landing upside down in the water. Kennedy survived; Kopechne did not.

FIRST LOOK: An Apolitical Thriller that Can't Help Placing Sen. Ted Kennedy in a Damnable Context

Screenwriters Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan and director John Curran depict the 1969 incident down the middle concerning the scandalous incidents that protected the then rising Presidential candidate. 

Clarke himself has a slight New England accent as the grieving Senator has a stroke of depression from the duel tragedies of his brothers John and Robert. His politeness and intensity suggest Mary Jo, a former secretary for Bobby, may have accompanied him for comfort. The story depicts an emotional connection but does not insinuate he cheated on his wife. 

After the young Senator escapes the vehicle, director Curran depicts multiple perspectives to the woman's last moments in the vehicle. Kennedy imagines them too. The film's ambiguity leaves speculation as to whether the Senator tried to rescue the passenger or wandered the surroundings in a selfish pity party. 

Details accent the film, especially the Kennedy political mainstays deliberating on how to spin the event.  Preventing an autopsy on a seemingly noble decision to rush her body to her family is one subtle example. Downplaying of the Senator's drinking is another. 

Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty,  Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) turns the production into a character study of Ted.  His grief and self-absorption sway into thoughts of integrity and futile escapistic moments (such as with a kite on the beach or a football). He's nimble enough for his close 'good ole boys' to manipulate even as they do the same with each other. 

Mara (Annie Cantrell in "We Are Marshall," Zoe in "House of Cards") distinguishes herself as one of the up and coming power women behind the RFK candidacy. Each of the "boiler room girls" even in brief portrayals suggest confidence, strategic mindsets, and hints of early political steps toward equality. Although in real life they all stood by Ted at an inquest, none would cooperate with the movie makers. 

Many unanswered questions remain that way. The two individuals who knew more are now deceased.

One of the most vivid --- how did the Senator escape the car and did an air pocket delay the young woman's drowning? 

Shock impacts recall and conduct can be bizarre following tragedy.  I probably should have avoided "Chappaquiddick", as a passenger and I were  victims in a fiery rear end collision by a truck. Some aspects are vivid: I recall seeing flames erupting from my gas tank, telling a bewildered passenger 'we have to get out,' then reaching to open the passenger side door. I pushed her barefoot out of the  car , and I jumped pre-explosion. I remember freaking out, too. Years later during pre-litigation discovery, a statement surfaced --- the truck driver had claimed to have rescued my passenger. 

Later, a photo would shut down the statement --- the driver's side door was collapsed. The passenger door open. 

So, I applaud the filmmakers for leaving realities dangling. I'm sure they were tempted to fill in more than the screen shows.  

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