Review – Don’t Drink And Drive (“Chappaquiddick”)

Do you remember this? In 1969, Senator Kennedy drove his car off the Chappaquiddick bridge along with his campaign worker, Mary Jo Kopechne. He lived, she died. But the controversy and ensuing cover-up that followed was the stuff of legend, conspiracy theorists, and this “based on actual events” movie.
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Jason Clarke disappears into the role of Senator Edward “Teddy” Kennedy, the last surviving brother of the Kennedy political dynasty and a possible presidential hopeful. One night, a small get-together party is arranged on Martha’s Vineyard with the “boiler room girls” (the stalwart Kennedy campaign secretaries), Ted, his lawyer cousin Joe Gargan (Ed Helms), and U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Paul F. Markham (comedian Jim Gaffigan). But things goes south when Ted decides to go for a little impromptu late-night drive with Mary Jo (Kate Mara).

After the bridge disaster, Ted tells Joe and Paul who quickly rush to the scene, but it’s too late. A personal and political nightmare, Ted is told to tell the authorities immediately, but he never does, causing even MORE problems. Ted’s acerbic wheelchair bound father, stroke victim Joseph Kennedy, Sr (Bruce Dern) tells him to lie and create an alibi, but Ted has second thoughts the following morning, as Joe and Paul tell him what little options he has. Avoiding the spit-storm of reporters there, Ted takes off for home-sweet-home where he’s greeted by a phalanx of spin doctors, led by former Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown).

With a gaggle of guys telling Ted what and what not to say, things don’t get any better as their web of lies keeps getting unraveled the more they try to control the situation. Ted, thinking he’s smarter than this bunch of experts, tries his own odd tactics, but in the end he’s faced with telling the cold, hard truth to the American people… sorta. As with most “based on actual events” movies, some parts are ‘Hollywood-ized’ for dramatic effects and to fill in the unknown parts of the story. Was Ted drunk that night? Was he having an affair with Mary Jo? Who was really behind the cover-up?

First-time screenwriters Taylor Allen & Andrew Logan (they’ve only done TV series producing), have created a damn fine script here that doesn’t come off like a droll documentary or a superfluous History Channel movie-of-the-week. The writing is sharp, smart, and has engaging dialogue, especially in the Kennedy household with all the spin masters. One would think Allen & Logan were script veterans with work such as this; a tough thing to pull off, given the touchy subject matter that still resonates today. The same can be said for relatively new director John Curran, who has a small body of work you’ve never heard of, yet he turns out a dynamic movie using old-school filming techniques.

Clarke does a remarkable job here, imbuing Kennedy with both cowardice and a frightened recklessness that makes you both hate and feel pity for him. Comedy guys Helms and Gaffigan play against type, turning out great dramatic performances here while Dern, looking perfectly dreadful, does so much with so little. But my favorite has to be character actor Clancy Brown, who for decades has always played the most evil villains you could ever imagine, gives a spot-on performance as a master of spin, using no weapons at all… save for his wit!.

Ides Of March (2011)

 

Based on Beau Willimon’s brilliant play, Farragut North, George Clooney snapped up the rights and adapted the screenplay (along with Willimon and Scorpion King actor Grant Heslov) into a equally brilliant movie about corruption, politics, and hiding the damag- ing truth about a Presidential hopeful from the American people.

Meet Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), the junior campaign manager for Presidential hopeful Governor Mike Morris (Clooney), who is competing against Senator Ted Pullman (Michael Mantell). Both of these guys are vying heavily for the endorsement of Senator Franklin Thompson (Jeffrey Wright), who controls 356 delegates, and would clinch the nomination for either candidate. Meyers is asked by Pullman’s campaign manager, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti), to meet in secret, but doesn’t get the okay from his own boss, Paul Zara (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) first. Ooooh! Big mistake! Meyers meets with Duffy anyway, and is offered a sweet deal: a higher-up position in Pullman’s campaign.

Meyers refuses and never tells Zara about it, later starting a sexual relationship with young intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachael Wood). To his horror, he learns that Molly is pregnant by squeaky-clean Gov. Morris AND an unscrupulous NY Times reporter Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei) is going to break the story, thus destroying all hopes for Morris’ campaign! Thinking an abortion might help, Meyers gets Molly to a clinic, but finds out later his troubles have doubled as his own boss has thrown him under the bus and framed because of disloyalty. After Molly commits suicide (or was it?), things from bad to worse as Meyers gets fired, his reputation gets slandered, and he decides enough is enough and it’s time for some payback. Can you say blackmail?

This is one terrific movie by Clooney showing everyone that the man can not only direct, but direct damn well. The writing is masterful; sharp, tense, smart, and equal to Mamet or Sorkin in its dialogue. Then you have the solid cast, all hand-picked by Clooney, and each one giving an Oscar-worthy performance. It was up for a slew of awards, made quite a stir at the box office, making it a critical delight. This is one of those movies that is highly underrated and not seen enough. The craftsmanship that went into making this film is readily apparent on the screen and should NOT be overlooked. Rent it, stream it, or just buy the DVD, and you won’t be sorry!

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