** SPOILERS **
Chappaquiddick is a sturdy lesson in crisis management, Kennedy-style. On July 18, 1969 - a couple of days before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon - the DUI Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy (Jason Clarke) drove his car off the Dike Bridge into the water below. Kennedy somehow escaped but his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara) wasn't as lucky. As Kennedy emerged safely, Mary Jo drowned in his vehicle. Fearing public disgrace, the end of his prospective Presidential run and the ruination of his political career, Kennedy waited 9 hours to report the incident. Instead, he recruited Joe Gargan (Ed Helms), his cousin, attorney, and family fixer, and Paul F. Markham (Jim Gaffigan), the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, to help him explain away the crime. And he would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for the meddling press, investigators, and everyone else peering into this careless and sloppy attempt at a cover-up.
As Kennedy wrestles with his conscience, his poor character, and the expectations of his disappointed, ailing father Joseph P. Kennedy (Bruce Dern) - whose strategies for a cover-up Kennedy ignores - Chappaquiddick doesn't really build up steam until the lawyers come into the picture. Led by Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown), essentially Mr. Burns' ten high-priced lawyers all take turns yelling at Kennedy for his hare-brained ideas to keep his name clean. Kennedy's dumbest, by far, was feigning a concussion the night of the accident and wearing a neckbrace to Mary Jo's funeral. Like the swarthy guy who wore a neckbrace to the trail and Mike Brady subsequently exposed in a Brady Bunch episode, Kennedy forgot a guy in a neckbrace shouldn't be able to crane his neck around. In the end, Kennedy never did become President, but his public statement and apology to the voters of Massachusetts ended up saving his political career.
Clarke is terrific as Ted Kennedy, and Chappaquiddick does a fine job evoking the Kennedy mythology, asking the audience to weigh whatever positive mystique the family retains to this day against the ugly reality of the deeply flawed, entitled men who carry that surname. The Kennedy magic largely died with Jack and Bobby, but Chappaquiddick showed enough of the mystique remained that the local law enforcement and even the voters still bent over backward to explain away the grave mistakes of the surviving Kennedy brother.