Movie Review by Joan Ellis –


Your interest in Chappaquiddick – or lack thereof – is likely to be determined by your age and your politics. The younger you are, the less likely you are to be emotionally involved. Director John Curran and writers Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan have made a fine film of a terrible story. They chose wisely to deal with things that were known and factual. No theories here.

Of the four sons of Rose and Joseph Kennedy, Joe Jr. was killed in Europe during WWII. John F. Kennedy became president in 1960 and brought a new generation into the political world. He died by a bullet in Dallas in 1962. His brother Robert was shot dead while running for President. Their supporters, I among them, reeled when Chappaquiddick unfolded.

Ted, the youngest brother, was elected to the senate and plunged into controversy when he drove a car off a narrow bridge in Chappaquiddick, MA that caused the drowning death of his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara), a strong, bright campaign worker in the Kennedy organization. Now we have a movie that offers the first filmed interpretation of that accident. Whatever your political persuasion, you will see a weak man who never measured up to that major crisis. He left the scene while Mary Jo Kopechne struggled for breath as she drowned in the car whose doors she couldn’t open.

Director John Curran has done a fine job with a tough subject. He doesn’t pretend to know how Kennedy escaped from the car and left the scene while Kopechne drowned inside so he concentrates on the known facts. Kennedy escaped, left the scene, and waited far too long to report the accident while trying to figure out how to make it all go away.

It is enough to say that because of his family’s fame, he fell immediately into the public spotlight while one loyal family friend, Joe Gargan (an excellent Ed Helms), tried unsuccessfully to convince him to do the right things. Bruce Dern stuns as patriarch Joseph Kennedy stricken speechless by a stroke who still tries to control his son. The screen fills with an ugly bunch of former loyalists who want to take Kennedy’s place as a presidential candidate.

At the center of it all, actor Jason Clark creates Kennedy in a remarkable creation of a man without a moral center caught in a crisis of his own making. In a powerful, understated performance, Clark conveys the center rot of a spoiled man whose dark, selfish instincts and ambitions governed his own behavior after the accident.

The supporting cast does a fine job of creating a mob of former loyalists who suddenly tried to seize the opening Kennedy had planned to use to run for president. Many in the audience were joined in disgust. The man who followed his three brothers into politics failed as a human being when he drove off a bridge, left his friend in the car – and tried to erase it.

Film Reviewer: Joan Ellis
Film Title : Chappaquiddick
Word Count : 498
Running Time: 1:41
Rating: PG-13
Date: 8 March 2018


The Rider

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Rider

The Rider is unique in many ways. Don’t miss it. It is the story of Brady Jandeau, a rodeo rider who has a terrible accident and then turns to a search for meaning in life without being able to build it with the horses he still loves but can’t ride. The movie is so deeply real that I was well into it before I understood what I was watching.

Brady Jandeau is the principal. There are no actors here. All are themselves. This story is about a man who has spent his entire young life with horses. Early on Jandeau is thrown. While down, his horse steps on his head inflicting a nearly fatal injury. When he removes his bandages, we see his skull is stapled together. We watch this man struggling to build a life around this injury that has changed everything he has built and loves.

The story of these real people unfolds in the harsh, unforgiving reality of the windswept Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Director Chloe Zhao is the extraordinary woman who met Jandeau before his injury and decided afterward to film his story. She has done just that with great sensitivity to him, deep understanding of his dilemma, and not a whit of dramatic excess. Still, we can feel the winds and emptiness of those Badlands so acutely that we almost shiver in the theater.

Jandeau’s dilemma is rooted entirely in his love of his horse and the loss of the life he had built as a good rodeo rider. Director Zhao gives us the reality of the harsh demands of that life in a way that tells us what Jandeau has lost while we walk just a few steps behind him emotionally in his search for what might give him meaning now that he has lost everything.

His life was no hobby; it was who he was. The way Brady Jandeau handles his gun, his horse, or the ropes tell us instantly that this is no actor. How will this real rider reinvent himself in this barren piece of America when he has lost the tools of his passion? He visits his old friend Cat Clifford who had been crippled in an automobile crash and his friend Lane Scott (both non-actors), paralyzed in a rehab facility in his search for a new life.

Flashbacks of Jandeau’s riding life show us the depth of his heartache at losing everything he loved. All of it unfolds in the hands of a director who never once succumbs to sugaring the story she sees. These men are “talking shop, drinking beer, rooting for each other.” Director Zhao creates the emotional depth without exaggeration. She and Brady Jandeau deliver the whole tough life to us. Together they give us a deeply American story by inviting us into a world most of us don’t know at all. By the end, we understand its effects on the men who live it and love it so deeply.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Rider
Word Count: 502
Running Time: 1:44
Rating: R
Date: March 4, 1981


This review was posted on March 31, 2018, in Drama.