By presenting a portrait of Ted Kennedy that is neither totally sympathetic or completely loathsome, Chappaquiddick succeeds by letting each viewer make up his or her own mind about what kind of person the late Senator from Massachusetts really was. Although this Blu-ray release doesn't provide a whole lot in terms of extras, Lionsgate has provided another solid video transfer with audio that is serviceable, if far from spectacular. While the movie doesn't offer any new revelations or theories, it's still very much Worth a Look.
In the summer of 1969, America landed men on the moon, boxer Muhammad Ali was convicted for dodging the draft, and Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts was involved in a car accident in Chappaquiddick that killed former campaign worker (for Bobby Kennedy) Mary Jo Kopechne and derailed the career (at least for the time being) of the only remaining living son of Joe Kennedy Sr. The events of the Ted Kennedy incident are the focus of Director John Curran's Chappaquiddick, a movie that seems to get most of its characterizations and facts correct, but doesn't add a whole lot new to the historical conversation.
Australian actor Jason Clarke takes on the role of Kennedy in the movie, and it's solid casting – as not only does Clarke look very much like the late senator, but he does a great job of channeling Kennedy's speech patterns and mannerisms as well. Clarke is one of those actors that Hollywood has been trying to turn into a leading man in a few different "tentpole" films over the past several years, but here he proves that he's really at his best as a character actor.
Those looking for a new twist or take on the events at Chappaquiddick may come away disappointed by this presentation. The movie isn't so much about what happened (after all these years, we may never be 100 percent sure of the truth) but rather the actions of Kennedy after the tragedy. At times, Clarke plays him very sympathetically, but in other moments he seems calculating. It's difficult to read Kennedy, which may actually be the way those closest to him at the time felt. Is he a man who is crumbling from all the pressure around him, or is he simply a self-centered egotist trying to save his political career by (poorly) manipulating the facts of what happened?
Rounding out the cast here are a number of other noteworthy portrayals worth mentioning. Kate Mara gets the thankless job of playing Mary Jo – not that the real-life person wasn't noteworthy, just that the story here can't do a whole lot with her. We have barely learned anything about her and then she's gone. Another small part is Bruce Dern as the senior Kennedy, Ted's father, Joe. At the time of Chappaquiddick, Joe was in his 70s, wheelchair bound, and suffering the results of a stroke. He communicates mainly through writing, although the despise he holds for his youngest child is evident. Dern also isn't given much screen time in the movie, but the effect he has on Ted (and Clarke and Dern's portrayal of the father/son dynamic) is one of the better parts of the presentation. The biggest of the supporting roles has Ed Helms (in one of his few dramatic performances to date) as Joseph Gargan, Ted's cousin and the moral compass of this movie. Gargan is the first person Ted seeks out after the watery crash, and he's the one throughout the movie trying to get Ted to do the right thing. From telling Ted he needs to report the accident to police to (later) telling him that resigning from the Senate is the right thing to do.
The best thing about Chappaquiddick is that it refuses to take a side when it comes to Ted Kennedy. If one goes into this film fond of the Kennedy family, your faith in them won't be destroyed. On the other hand, if you loathe the Kennedys, there's enough here that your hate of them will be justified at many points in the movie. Kudos to Clarke and the screenwriters for presenting its lead character in with such a love/hate dynamic. I'm hard-pressed to think of many films that have been able to pull something like that off, so the movie deserves credit for doing it here. With that in mind, however, there's not much else about Chappaquiddick to engage those who didn't already live through the events or are really familiar with the facts. Other than the inner conflict of the main character, this is basically a straightforward telling – worth seeing, but not necessarily something worth seeing again.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Chappaquiddick arrives on home video from Lionsgate in a DVD/Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack. The 50GB Blu-ray and dual-layer DVD are housed inside an eco-friendly Elite keepcase along with an insert containing a code for either an UltraViolet or iTunes copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the case slides overtop. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray are front-loaded with trailers for The Hurricane Heist and Winchester. The main menus features a montage of footage from the movie on the top two-thirds of the screen, while menu selections appear horizontally across the bottom third.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
Chappaquiddick was shot digitally using both the Arri Alexa XT Plus and the Arri Alexa Mini, with a handful of 16mm footage shot on the Arriflex 16 S. It is presented on Blu-ray in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. The image here is typical of what I've seen in the past from movies shot on Arri equipment – with wonderful depth and detail in outdoor sequences, but a little more darkness and noise in those scenes shot indoors and/or on sets. The color palette also varies, with outdoor scenes (particularly those in daylight) having a much "cooler" look compared to the warmer, slightly more saturated indoor material.
In terms of the transfer, this is another quality job from Lionsgate, who rarely disappoint in their presentations. I didn't pick up on any issues with aliasing, banding, or the like, and any variation in the image (like the differences mentioned above) seems to be solely from the source material/cinematographer choices than any problems with the transfer itself. It's a pleasant, if not reference-quality, visual experience.
The only available audio on this release is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Even for a movie that is primarily focused on conversations the way this one is, I was a little surprised at how up-front the overall audio presentation is, with the rears only really noticeable when the musical score kicks in. During scenes where one would think the rear speakers would come into play – like during the car crash sequence or several scenes in the movie where Kennedy is mobbed by reporters, the rears are still far from active.
It all adds up to an underwhelming, but not technically problematic mix, as dialogue is crisp and understandable throughout and there are no dropouts or other issues of which to speak. This just isn't the kind of track that impresses, although I suppose it's still serviceable enough for this kind of presentation.
Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
A Reckoning: Revisiting Chappaquiddick (HD 25:19) – This is a standard behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie, featuring comments from Screenwriter/Executive Producers Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, Producers Mark Chiardi and Campbell McInnes, Production Designer John Goldsmith, and stars Jason Clarke, Ed Helms, and Jim Gaffigan. Director John Curran is discussed, but is not on hand (aside from footage of him on the set) to offer any comments of his own.
Bridge to the Past: Editing the Film (HD 12:45) – As the title of this featurette implies, this is a look at the editing process (using the Avid Media Composer program), with comments from Film Editor Keith Fraase.
Chappaquiddick doesn't have a whole lot new to say about the tragedy that may (or may not) have cost Ted Kennedy his chance at becoming President of the United States. What it does do, however, is present the lead character (in a solid performance by Jason Clarke) in such a way that the viewer can make up his/her own mind about whether Kennedy is someone to be loved or someone to be loathed. While the movie's not something audiences may choose to re-visit, it's certainly Worth a Look.