Chappaquiddick is a political drama with top-notch performances.
The movie is reminiscent of W, Oliver Stone’s character study on George W. Bush. Just like that film, Chappaquiddick follows up a controversial story about a political figure with the effects of imposing influence. The biopic doesn’t let its lead figure, Ted Kennedy, off the hook for his car accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne, but the film gives insight on who was involved in the cover-up that was in motion to clear Kennedy’s name.
Jason Clarke (Terminator Genisys, Mudbound) gives an incredible performance as Ted, a conflicted Senator who is trying to find his own prominence as a Kennedy. Clarke’s composure is immaculate as he hides Ted’s insecurities with feigned confidence. After the accident, Clarke is required to show slight cracks in Ted’s appearance. However, the real challenge in the role is portraying separated sensitivity, such as different levels of fear and sadness. Kennedy is devastated by the passing of his friend Mary Jo (Kate Mara), filled with guilt for his poor decisions, and has to face a railroaded fate as he watches his power slip away. Ted wants to be truthful, but he also wants to be held in high regard. This isn’t easy when his attempts to regain his stature are met with disapproval and disappointment from colleagues and family. It’s a morally ambiguous and multi-layered part for Jason Clarke, and he aces it.
Ed Helms, as Ted’s cousin Joe, is the film’s other MVP. Known for his TV work on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and NBC’s The Office, Helms has been pegged to play uptight sticklers ever since his breakout in The Hangover. However, director John Curran is willing to take a risk with his performer. Chappaquiddick is that rare film that simultaneously embraces and goes against a typecast actor. Realizing the sobering perspectives Helms provides in mainstream comedies, Curran gives the comedian the task of anchoring this serious scandal with principles and outsider purity. Helms breaks new ground as an actor as he proudly rises to the occasion.
Chappaquiddick is a fascinating period piece, but it’s more memorable for its master class in acting.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie