Review: Chappaquiddick

Jason Clarke. Jason Clarke. Jason Clarke. This is all about one of Australia’s finest unsung big screen talents – Jason Clarke. Turning in his finest performance to date after a string of solid turns (Mudbound, All I See Is You, Zero Dark Thirty), Clarke commands the screen in Chappaquiddick, a breathlessly intoxicating historical drama that tackles a moment in U.S. History and wrenches it with tension and paranoia. Bonus, the film turns out to be director John Curran’s finest hour on screen, too! A Winner.

Don’t let the notion that this biopic of sorts set around a moment in U.S. political history deter you from seeing it, Chappaquiddick is a rip roaring and tense chamber piece that works like a whodunnit with thanks to a taut script from writers Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan. Given such strong and focused material to play with, director John Curran (We Don’t Live Here Anymore, Praise, Tracks, Stone) turns in his most disciplined and engaging work.

It’s 1969 and U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy (Clarke) is involved in a horrific car accident that claims the life of one of his political strategists Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). Facing a career destroying outcome, the lines of truth, ambition, power, and political legacy are all thrown into the fray and Kennedy and his advisors work to manage the media storm and save his career.

Chappaquiddick is a film best discovered for yourself. The forensic reconstructions, the dynamite verbal exchanges, the constant tooing and froing of responsibility, and the inconsistencies between the evidence and testimony all combine for a riveting ride and an exemplary cinematic case study.

Supported by committed turns from the cast, the film effortlessly joins the likes of the hugely underrated Thirteen Days, Bobby and J.F.K. as both an intoxicating look at a historical event (well, ok, the latter takes far more liberties) and a riveting, tension filled thriller.

The lust for power, the liberal use of truth, and the lengths people will go to protect ambition are fruit ripe for the picking in cinema and Chappaquiddick delivers it in spades. Bonus, it’s led by one of Australia’s finest exports – Jason Clarke.