The 2018 film Chappaquiddick treats Senator Ted Kennedy as though he were a very unscrupulous tragic hero save he doesn’t die at the end, which is significant. Kennedy goes on living, after dopily getting together with Mary Jo Kopechne and driving her to her doom: oxygen deprivation in a car underwater. “Kopechne died because Kennedy dithered” (Daniel Oliver), and after this, a true tragic hero would have died, perhaps by suicide.
This is not to say that John Curran‘s film isn’t a good one; it is. Sympathy goes to Kopechne—how could it not?—but even more of it goes to Kennedy, and one may be in high dudgeon over this. Yet it should be remembered that by consorting with Kennedy poor Mary Jo was going off with a married man. It was a grave mistake.
Jason Clarke, though, portrays Kennedy not only as a tragic hero but also as a fool, in a nicely subdued performance. I suspect that director Curran did not work that thoroughly with his actors—they don’t always own their roles—but there’s no problem with Clancy Brown, who shows intelligent fire as Robert MacNamara, or a palatable Ed Helms. It’s about time someone made a movie about the Liberal Lion of the Senate’s failure to be charitable to a doomed girl.