Year Released: 2018
Directed by: John Curran
Starring: Jason Clarke, Kate Mara Ed Helms, Bruce Dern
(PG-13, 110 min.)
Genre: Historical Drama
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln
The Kennedys – you either love them or hate them. There is no in between, right? Well maybe there is…
Of course, true Kennedy lovers wish the film would never have been made, and it wasn’t for almost fifty years, but more on that later.
And those who loathe the Kennedys, especially Teddy, are not given the red meat they might hope for.
Screenwriters Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan used mostly historical notes and records to piece together this story that has largely avoided rumors and the more salacious innuendos surrounding the incident. And Jason Clarke’s nuanced and riveting portrayal of the young senator is at times, surprisingly sympathetic.
Here are the bare bones of the episode with just a tad of “red meat” attached:
It happened after a summer party at which Kennedy and five other married men entertained six single women — the so-called “boiler-room girls” — who had worked on the presidential campaign of his brother, Bobby, the previous year.
Kennedy, then 37, did not report the car accident until 10 hours later. He never fully explained why he was with Kopechne, 28, and the film depicts how a team of nine men worked cynically to fix matters so the scion’s political career could be salvaged. –Toby Harnden
Here’s a little history on why this film was made almost a half-century after the events and why its director felt it relevant now:
(The director John) Curran, who describes himself as "a liberal Democrat", said he made the film in part because of Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign.
“I felt disgusted by what was happening on the right and their support for this character running for president,” he said. “But I recognized my own hypocrisy in having a very convenient blind spot to Ted in regard to this story. It’s just empty to keep shouting at the other side and not be prepared to take a hard look at your own candidates.
“This is a story that happened 50 years ago and the fact this is a sacred cow we should not speak about was odd to me, and in itself became a motivating factor. I was angry we weren’t allowed to confront the truth.”
Byron Allen, the film’s executive producer, told Variety magazine “some very powerful people . . . tried to put pressure on me not to release this movie”.
Curran said Chris Dodd, a top Hollywood executive and former Democratic senator for Connecticut, had tried to intervene. Dodd, a one-time drinking friend of Kennedy, last year stepped down as head of the Motion Picture Association of America, a lobbying group for the six biggest studios. – Toby Harnden
Yet the film doesn’t really take a side and is rather balanced. Jason Clarke, who studied tapes of Kennedy to perfect his portrayal, creates someone who is weak rather than evil, someone reined in as much by his family mystique and power as he is liberated by it. He is the runt of the litter trying to fulfill the expectations of a father fixated on the Presidency.
That had originally been the slot allotted to the eldest son Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., who was killed in 1944 during World War II. Then John F. Kennedy, a PT boat captain survived the war and took up the family mantle only to be assassinated during his Presidency in 1963. Bobby, the third brother, was also assassinated in 1968 while campaigning for that same high office. Which left everything on the very weak shoulders of the youngest Edward (Ted) Kennedy.
And that burden is a heavy one as he attempts to explain to his father, the family patriarch (Bruce Dern), now confined to a wheel chair and barely able to speak due to a stroke.
“Joe was the chosen one, Jack was the brilliant one, and Bobby was the charming one. Who am I?”
Dern, imprisoned in that pathetic carcass, distills his vitriol in spittle-fueled rage. The last remaining son, the runt of the litter, is no hero or martyr like his brothers, but one who has wantonly brought this disaster upon himself, and more importantly, upon the whole Kennedy clan.
If there is anyone evil in this film, it is this pathetic old man and the cadre of sycophant-fixers who swoop down to remedy the disaster.
However, Ted does incriminate himself through his actions and the sordidness of his excuses. Mary Jo, the young girl pronounced dead the next day, did not drown, but lived for hours, presumably in an air bubble inside the submerged car, before she ultimately suffocated. Had Ted stopped at the nearby house to report the accident, she probably would have survived.
But as soon as he emerges from the car, and whether or not he really did dive down “5 times” to try and rescue her, Ted Kennedy’s first and foremost thoughts are on himself and his career.
His pathetic attempts to play the victim, from his fake neck brace at the funeral to his grandiose pronouncements fool only those who willfully refuse to see.
He exhorts his team of spin meisters to “Tell the truth – or at least our version of it,” unaware of any implicit irony.
But perhaps his most damning bombast is reserved for his first cousin, Joe Gargan (Ed Helms), the one who always has saved Ted from himself.
“Moses had a temper. Peter betrayed Jesus. I have Chappaquiddick,” Ted offers.
But cousin Joe, for once, is not having any of it.
“Moses had a temper, but he never left a dead girl at the bottom of the Red Sea.”
And that last statement says it all.
We couldn’t have a film about Tec Kennedy without some liquor now, could we? It seems his favorite was the straight stuff, scotch probably or maybe bourbon.
Well, let’s dress this plain Jane up a bit while we still retain its simple essence: Our delicious Old Fashioned Cocktail fits the nearly five decades ago setting, and the dash of sugar and orange/cherry garnish makes it pretty as a picture.
Bottoms up. No pun intended.
Old Fashioned Cocktail
1 teaspoon (5g) superfine sugar (or 1 sugar cube)
2 to 3 dashes bitters
2 ounces (60ml) bourbon or rye whiskey
Orange and/or cherry, to garnish (optional)
Place sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Douse with bitters and add a few drops of water. Add whiskey and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add several large ice cubes and stir rapidly with a bar spoon to chill. Garnish, if you like, with a slice of orange and/or a cherry.