Thirteen Days

Stars: Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood

Thirteen Days, which takes us back to October 1962, the presidency of John F. Kennedy and the 13-day long events surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis, is a frighteningly tense, powerful, suspenseful, extremely well-cast and well constructed drama to keep you on the edge of your seat for some 2-and-a quarter-hours.

Back in 1962, the United States discovered that Soviet missiles were being deployed in Cuba. With a mere 90-miles separating the U.S. from Cuba, this became one of the most dangerous times facing America. The missiles could easily have obliterated half of the U.S. President Kennedy and his political advisers worked feverishly to find a diplomatic solution while military advisers pushed hard to stage a battle that would most likely have escalated to nuclear war. When the crisis became public information, the country was in turmoil. This movie clearly puts into perspective the supreme danger and tension surrounding those events as it does the resolve, intelligence and courage by “men of goodwill” to prevent the unleashing of the war dragon.

In a movie like this, the public will always wonder what’s real and what’s manufactured. In a recent George magazine article, Theodore Sorensen. Kennedy’s speech writer, gave it a thumbs up for authenticity with the exception of the overplayed involvement of Kenneth P. O’Donnell, a presidential adviser played by Kevin Costner. So, that’s at least one area where the screenwriter obviously took some creative license. Nevertheless, the film works. It doesn’t so much present the events through O’Donnell’s eyes as it makes O’Donnell a surrogate for the public at large. Here he is a family man with five kids, deeply concerned as events escalate. He can’t explain to them what’s going on or the danger they’re in. He can’t even tell his son that he misses him when he’s gone day and night during the crisis. O’Donnell represents bald faced fear.

Bruce Greenwood portrays JFK with less concern for the Boston accent than for the intelligence behind the man in the hot seat. And he’s certainly up to the job showing us a guy squeezed from both sides. But, in a sense, it’s the events taking place and the efforts to thwart them that are important here. Beyond that, Kennedy remains a blank slate. and that’s too bad. Steven Culp does an extraordinary job as Attorney General Robert Kennedy, portraying him a man who wishes he could be the one running the show, but grateful he doesn’t have to take the consequences for his hotheaded actions. He defers to his brother for that. You can tell that Bobby Kennedy’s reputation as the ruthless brother, was well earned. He opens his big mouth then skulks in the background, letting the chips falls on big brother John’s shoulders.

Dylan Baker as Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara and Michael Fairman as U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson get high marks for finely tuned, credible work and I did like Tim Kelleher as Ted Sorensen as well. Costner did a good job with a loaded accent that you just have to ignore.

There are a couple of very good action sequences like when a U-2 spy plane gets attacked while on recognizance over Cuba. You’ll hold your breath, along with the poor pilot.

Lotta says
whether you remember the events of 1962 or not, Thirteen Days is high drama – a very good show.

Reviewed 12/20/00