UK Release Date: 13th August 2018
Runtime: 102 minutes
Director: John Curran
Writer: Taylor Allen, Andrew Logan
Starring: Jason Clarke, Ed Helms, Kate Mara, Bruce Dern, Olivia Thirlby, Jim Gaffigan, Clancy Brown
Synopsis: When Ted Kennedy causes a car accident that leads to the death of a young woman, his aides go into full propaganda mode.
When the first news was announced surrounding Chappaquiddick, it seemed like it was going to be a difficult sell in the UK. Having lived my whole life in Britain, I know very little about the Kennedys, and the Chappaquiddick incident is not something that was ever on my radar. Sure enough, the movie is now arriving very quietly on these shores, with the far less esoteric, but more generic moniker of The Senator. The bigger problem, though, is that John Curran‘s film is about as tedious as a political drama can possibly get.
TV shows like The Thick of It and The West Wing have taken viewers inside the corridors of power, in order to display the inner machinations of political players struggling to deal with unravelling scandal. All of the shows of that ilk use visual dynamism and sharp dialogue to allow viewers to watch those in power flap and blunder like the rest of us. It’s a shocking choice, therefore, that Curran’s movie makes to display the inner workings of American politics as a grey world full of grey men in grey suits. There’s no energy or verve to the movie, despite the lurid scandal it depicts.
That scandal, for those like me who were unaware, follows Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) in 1969 – living in the shadow of his recently deceased and far more famous brothers. Following a party on Martha’s Vineyard, Ted takes campaign aide Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) for a drive and inadvertently ends up in the water. He cannot save Mary Jo from the water and calls confidante Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) and US Attorney Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan) for help. Despite their advice, he waits 10 hours to report the accident, sparking a major police investigation.
Unfortunately for anyone watching The Senator, that investigation is exceptionally dull and so is the turmoil of what Ted should do to stay ahead of the scandal. Clarke’s performance is as incredibly boring as it was when he took the lead role in Winchester and it seems clear that he is much better as a supporting player in this rather low-charisma portion of his career. There are some fun supporting turns, with Helms standing out with a surprisingly emotional performance, but much of the film exists on the same low-energy level as Clarke.
This is a film that does absolutely nothing to communicate why its central story was so significant and life-changing for all involved, trusting the audience to do all of their own legwork. For an American audience, the incident might speak for itself, but that’s not the case in the UK, where the Kennedy family is not a key part of history. Without the built-in historical significance, The Senator is simply two hours of dreary cinematic wallpaper, helmed with all of the fizz of a six-month old coke can.
Pop or Poop?
The Senator definitely doesn’t work in the UK, but it probably doesn’t work in America either. Jason Clarke is unbearably boring as Ted Kennedy and the movie never finds a way to make the inner workings of his propaganda team exciting. Ed Helms adds a spark of emotion, but the sheer tedium of Curran’s movie steamrolls him into nothing.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
The Senator is out on VOD in the UK from Monday, then on DVD from August 20.