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Soundtrack review: Chappaquiddick (Garth Stevenson – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Chappaquiddick (Garth Stevenson – 2018)

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“Chappaquiddick” is a 2017 American drama film directed by John Curran, and written by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan. The film stars Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy (U.S. Senator from Massachusetts) and Kate Mara as Mary Jo Kopechne, with Ed Helms, Bruce Dern, Jim Gaffigan, and Taylor Nichols in supporting roles. The plot details the events following the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident, wherein Senator Kennedy drove his car into a lake, killing Kopechne. Garth Stevenson wrote the score.

The score opens with “In his shadow” and it’s indeed a minimalistic, shadowy theme with the ghost of a piano and a barely audible string motif heard in the background. It makes sense for this to be the general sound of this score as the real life story was not just about the incident but also about the shadow and doubt it cast over Ted Kennedy’s future life and career. The score rarely leaves this zone, often getting darker and quieter. This muffled, almost murky sounds also evokes the lake, the drowning, those hopeless moments. Garth Stevenson never gets loud with his music as this score is all about the depth; each instrument plays clear, sparse motifs, like occasional flashes of light in constant darkness. I like how the strings are trembling and barely touched as the underdeveloped motif give a sensation of constant doubt. For me this string texture is the highlight of the score as there are moments of heartbreak as well when the violin is heard more clearly, like in “Drown”, the most requiem like piece of this album.

It’s not easy for a composer to make a minimalistic score such as this hold water (pun intended) as a standalone listening experience as well but Garth Stevenson combines his musical elements in a way that keeps the score varied and interesting. The centre piece of “Chappaquiddick” is the over 9 minutes long “Senator”; if you’ve been reading my reviews you know that I have a special affinity for minimalistic music and the way this particular cue plays is right up my alley, with the occasional sombre piano sounds and, once again, the shy, trembling string undertone. It’s a tale of both fear and guilt and I hear them quite clearly in the music.

“Chappaquiddick” is minimalistic music done right, with both exploratory reflective moment and warmer, more emotional ones when the strings, once again, my favourite thing about this score, get louder, more heartbreaking, when they rebel against the usual texture of this album. This is the kind of score that hides its rewards within specific cues, like the superb way in which “Apollo” develops and builds up. I enjoy more the moments when the string sound is clear and clear. I get “Game of thrones” flashbacks from the cello on “Alibi”.

I enjoyed “Chappaquiddick”, I enjoyed the quietly turbulent message it transmitted to me and I just embraced every single string motif as if it were my own. The way the composer wove that main theme and those string motifs in the fabric of the score made it as dense as it was quiet.

Cue rating: 79 / 100

Highlights:
Drown
Apollo
She’s Already Dead
Mary Jo

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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