April 15, 2018


Review: Chappaquiddick - Ted Kennedy and the Fall of Dickarus (Dominic Green, 15 April 2018, Spectator US)

Chappaquiddick is a drama not a legal indictment, but that makes it all the more devastating. Like the court that let him off with a slapped wrist, Chappaquiddick takes Ted at his word--his suspicious failure to report the accident, his apparent attempt to create an alibi, the falsifications in his written statement to the police, his bizarre behavior after the story broke, his falsifications of the record in court, and the further falsifications of his televised statement in the court of public opinion. We have only Ted's word that he repeatedly tried to save Mary Jo Kopechne. And Ted's word, Chappaquiddick shows, is worthless. Personally, I doubt he even tried to save her. I also doubt his claim that he could not recall how it was that he ended up on dry land, and she ended up trapped in an upended car.

In the New York Times, Neal Gabler has accused the makers of Chappaquiddick of character assassination. Admittedly, it's an embroidery to have Joe Kennedy, Sr., palsied by a stroke, gasping 'Alibi!' like an elderly Mafia don. But Gabler, an old-time liberal who is writing a biography of the 'white-maned senator', is protecting his professional and political investments. Ted assassinated whatever character he had. No one can complain about the necessary fictions of a film when its subject was in reality a proven liar.

Jason Clarke captures Ted's appeal and weakness perfectly. Like Elvis after the '68 Special or Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky affair, Kennedy is seedy and flabby, but he still has a shake in his hips and the confused, fascinating intensity of a petulant giant. When Ted breaks the news to Kopechne's parents, he launches into a politician's speech. They hang up, and he sobs--for himself and his weakness, and not for their dead daughter.

Two comedians play against type in this sorry tragedy. Ed Helms is superb as the Kennedy clan's Tom Hagen, Ted's cousin and fixer Joe Gargan. Jim Gaffigan, as Massachusetts attorney-general Paul Markham, is a moral and physical slob, a high official reduced to a drunken gofer for Ted Sorensen and the family lawyers as they conspire to cover up Ted's crime and then, when the story breaks, spin it so that Ted, not Mary Jo Kopechne, is the victim.

In his 1988 book Senatorial Privilege, Leo Damore reports an interview with Gargan in which Gargan claims that Ted Kennedy at first tried to pin the crash on Kopechne, by claiming that she was driving. Kennedy himself was unable to explain why he didn't report the accident for ten hours. As Chappaquiddick shows, his conduct is only explicable as that of a coward in search of an alibi. The same goes for his ludicrous donning of a neck brace for Kopechne's funeral -- the papers reported that he had no trouble turning around in his pew--and the claim by Kennedy lawyers that Ted couldn't speak to the press because he was sedated because of concussion. They dropped that line when it emerged that sedating a concussion can be fatal.

Posted by at April 15, 2018 8:39 AM