By John Messer, E23 Reporter

"Chappaquiddick" poster

Image provided for noncommercial reuse by Flickr user “junaidrao.” (Link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/junaidrao/24498574037)

This past weekend gave us “Chappaquiddick,” starring Jason Clarke as Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne. It was directed by John Curran and, more importantly, has a supporting role from Clancy Brown, otherwise known as one of my five favorite actors of all time.

The film follows the real-life events of a mysterious and scandalous death that occurred in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts, and involved Teddy Kennedy, youngest of the Kennedy brothers. The film takes a handful of necessary creative liberties with the historical event but otherwise stays impressively close to the actual record of the event. Like the actual Chappaquiddick incident, it paints a decidedly inconclusive picture of what actually happened.

The film has a striking presentation. It remains methodical and tightly edited throughout, capturing the stark realism the premise is based upon. This is sometimes to the film’s detriment, as scenes that should hit harder just peter out. However, plenty of its fantastically directed scenes do hit hard and really capture some surprisingly standout performances from Jason Clarke.

The heart of the film resides in Clarke’s performance. He skillfully captures the emotion of a confused man grappling with the implications of the situation with a performance as subtle as it is emotional. My only other recent experience with Jason Clarke was in “Terminator Genisys” so I was pleasantly surprised at this turnaround from him.

The biggest complaint I can levy against the film is that when it’s over, I felt like it was only two-thirds of the way through. That may be praising with soft insult, but it is true. The film maintains a brisk pace and breezes through the content of the story far too quickly than it needed to. If a film like “Dunkirk” can drag out 36 hours the way it did, “Chappaquiddick” could manage to squeeze a bit more out of its mystery.

The film started principal photography back in 2016, which for such an effect-light movie seems like a long production time. “Chappaquiddick” went through the film festival circuit before getting picked up for a wide release in April 2018. This might serve to explain the faster pace and smaller focus. A movie made via a big studio from the get-go would have higher standards for length and flash.

“Chappaquiddick” is a curious case and a fun little film. It’s intriguing, engaging and darkly humorous at times, and it has Clancy Brown in it! There really is no excuse to miss it if you consider yourself a fan of solid, well-done drama. Catch it in theaters or elsewhere as soon as legally possible.

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