Thirteen Days

Produced By:  New Line Cinema

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


                I had no desire to see Thirteen Days when it hit the theaters in December 2000.  I am neither a fan of Kevin Costner nor Bruce Greenwood and since both had leading roles in the film, I was dissuaded from seeing it, even though it brought to light quite a bit of the action and intrigue surrounding the historical event that has become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.  That being said, I'm one of those creatures of habit that must complete what I have started.  Thus, when I got my hands on a movie three-pack, having watched the other two films on the DVD, I decided that I must watch the final film, Thirteen Days.

                Based on the book The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow, Thirteen Days takes place in October 1962, during the John F. Kennedy presidential administration.  Routine surveillance photos taken by a U-2 aircraft reveal that the Russians have transplanted nuclear missiles in Cuba.  Those missiles are believed to have the capability to target anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.  President Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) and his advisors must come up with a plan of action that won't cause an all-out nuclear war.  Helping him keep his head and his political cool are his brother Robert Kennedy (Steven Culp) and Special Assistant to the President Kenneth O'Donnell (Kevin Costner).

                While I found the movie surprisingly entertaining as an edge of your seat political drama, I wonder at the historical accuracy of the film.  The movie places Kenneth O'Donnell as the lead protagonist, giving him quite a bit of influence into what took place during the crisis.  As Special Assistant to the President, I can see him having access and some influence on the President and some of his decisions, but in a case of such a monumental incident, I wonder at how much O'Donnell was kept apprise of, much less how much say he would have during the incident.  I find it hard to believe, even if he was kept in the Kennedys confidence, that O'Donnell would be given such latitude in such a crisis as this one that could affect the fate of the world should things go wrong.

                I will say that the acting performances of Greenwood as John F. Kennedy, Kevin Costner as Kenneth O'Donnell and Steven Culp as Robert Kennedy were excellent.  Also admirable in their roles were Dylan Baker as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Bill Smitrovich as General Maxwell Taylor and Michael Fairman as US Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson.

                If half of what is presented in this film is true, then one should be amazed at just how close we came to war in 1962 and the admirable way in which President Kennedy and his closest advisors handled the situation.  Once again, there is question to the historical accuracy, but if at all close to the truth, it would seem that the military powers of the US at the time were all for invading Cuba and engaging Russia during the time and such events could have brought on catastrophic results.  The political maneuvering and battles of words between the United States and Russia clearly are what averted a nuclear war and that is something we all can be grateful for. 

                Thirteen Days depicts a dramatic and politically charged time in the history of the United States and one worth checking out.  Yes, there are some questionable representations in the film, but intelligent viewers will be able to sort out the truth from the inaccuracies and keep an open mind in an effort to grasp a new point of view regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Learning is about absorbing all information you can grasp and putting it all together to form an intelligent opinion about the subject.  Consider Thirteen Days one of many sources regarding that particular moment in history that one can learn something from...and a great example of a politically based dramatic film that won't put you to sleep.


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