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THIRTEEN DAYS

SYNOPSIS:
In October 1962, a routine American spy flight over Cuba reveals the presence of nuclear missiles on the island. President John F Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) immediately turns to his most trusted advisers - his brother Robert (Stephen Culp) and Kevin O’Donnell (Kevin Costner). As Russian denials and stonewalling continue, military chiefs plead for a decision to bomb the suspect bases. But JFK refuses, instead preferring a quarantine of Cuba combined with diplomacy led by UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson (Michael Fairman). With several Russian ships approaching the quarantine line, and the missiles in Cuba close to becoming operational, the world is on the brink of all out nuclear war.

“The Kennedys and Camelot are in ruins. So is the Soviet Union. What they were really fighting over almost 40 years ago - Castro and Cuba - remain. You can't help imagining Fidel smiling now, knowing that the events of those 13 days in October 1962 guaranteed his survival beyond that of the USSR and continues to protect his island from being reclaimed by his American adversaries. The outcome is known but Thirteen Days plays effectively as a thriller by offering meaty exploration of the many conflicts between political and military arms of US administration. With Soviet Premier Khruschev kept off-screen, the vilains of this drama are the hawkish joint chiefs of staff anxious to blast those commies into submission. How feverish Air Force chief Curtis Lemay (Kevin Conway) and the rest of military brass really were is open to conjecture but it certainly makes for good drama as they push the Kennedys (and the world) to the limit. Although presidential aide Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner) is not regarded as playing a significant role in the crisis by Kennedy-era authorities, his elevation to major player status works effectively because it allows him to operate as a covert agent for the Kennedy cause and commentator on the golden legacy of the brothers from Boston this film is clearly intent on maintaining. It should also be noted that O'Donnell's son Kevin is an investor in Beacon Communications, which produced Thirteen Days. While offering an intelligent and absorbing account of the crisis at hand, Thirteen Days also offers glimpses into other Kennedy-related matters that will interest anyone who believes others besides Lee Harvey Oswald pulled the trigger. Dean Achison (Len Cariou) who was Truman's secretary of state and a major architect of the cold war, comments that JFK's father Joseph Kennedy helped draft the Berlin appeasement of Hitler in 1938 - "let's hope appeasement doesn't run in the family...I fear weakness does" he says. There are also passing references to the war in Vietnam - a war, we're led to believe here, JFK does not wish America to become heavily involved in. These tantalising side details give the film a big, impressive and even slightly subversive canvas. The two and a half hours of interior drama is punctuated by scenes at military installations and aboard Navy warships enforcing the blockade (or "quarantine" as it was officially called) around Cuba. These excursions out of the Oval Office are short and effective counterpoints to the war of words between the US and the Soviets and between those called upon by JFK to help find a solution. A juicy screenplay and pro direction from Ballarat born director Roger Donaldson results in impressive performances from a fine ensemble cast. Special nods to Steven Culp as Bobby Kennedy, Dylan Baker as Defence Secretary Robert McNamara and Michael Fairman as U.N. representative and former presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson who delivers one of the best lines when, before entering the General Assembly where he is expected to be savaged by the Soviet delegate, he says "I'm an old political cat but I still have one life". Impressive stuff and a way above average Hollywood history lesson."
Richard Kuipers

"It’s difficult now to imagine the terror the Cuban missile crisis created in America and throughout the West; but Roger Donaldson’s Thirteen Days takes us into the mindset of that time. Donaldson directs the film without much dash but with a ton of detail. His focus is squarely on the White House, from where President Kennedy and his staff took the world to the brink, only to have sense prevail. Of course, the film has a major hurdle to overcome as everyone knows how it will end; but it still manages to capture the tension and drama of the crisis. Indeed, it plays more like a thriller than a documentary. Despite several scenes featuring battleships and warplanes, Donaldson paints the crisis as a psychological battle - a struggle of minds between Khrushchev and Kennedy; and between Kennedy and his Pentagon advisers. Precisely what happened behind the closed doors of the Oval Office will probably never be known; but scriptwriter David Self presents a scenario of what might have happened, within the structure of the actual history. Kevin Costner plays O’Donnell with a rather jarring Boston accent; but once you get past that, his performance is competent if not particularly inspired. Of course, the irony of him playing an adviser to JFK is worth the admission price in itself. The real stars of the piece are Bruce Greenwood as the President and Stephen Culp as Bobby Kennedy. They play off each other remarkably well; Greenwood instilling a quiet determination in JFK, while Culp gives RFK a “go get ‘em” ferocity. In the final analysis, Thirteen Days is probably a little too long and a little too sluggish in places. But it’s nonetheless a gripping and tremendously detailed examination of the defining moment in the Cold War."
David Edwards

“As an account of the Cuban missile crisis from the point of view of the Kennedy administration, Thirteen Days is informative if tendentious. As a political thriller, it's generally absorbing though a bit overlong and prosaic. As a story about people, it never quite comes to life: there's a memorable, finely sketched portrait gallery - Steven Culp as Bobby Kennedy, Dylan Baker as Robert McNamera, Michael Fairman as Adlai Stevenson - but the actors are confined to their exemplary stances as exhibits in a historical museum. The exception is Kevin Costner - though his character is based on a real person, he functions largely as a convenient narrative device: a privileged insider who's also a sympathetic ordinary guy, providing a transparent window on these world-shaking events. By contrast, Bruce Greenwood's JFK is necessarily remote and to some extent unknowable. Greenwood lets us see the amused eyes flickering behind the presidential mask, the man disappearing into the legend: along with Kenny, the audience is invited to view this golden boy with a blend of deep affection and mystified awe. Costner was a producer as well as an actor here, and while it's good to see he can focus his lachrymose hero-worship on someone other than himself, Thirteen Days like most of his star vehicles is an ode to old-fashioned yet sensitive masculinity. Women are kept on the sidelines while the boys in the backroom work day and night to save the world - so many tough, cocky, wisecracking guys in suits and short hair, conscious of their brilliance and their responsibilities as an elite. While it purports to show us the behind-the scenes stresses and compromises of real-world politics, Thirteen Days somehow manages to transform a terrifying global crisis into an object of nostalgia: one more in the catalogue of recent Hollywood films, made from a variety of political standpoints, that ask us to remember the height of the Cold War as a golden age of American innocence.”
Jake Wilson

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

THIRTEEN DAYS (M)
(US)

CAST: Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp, Dylan Baker, Stephanie Romanov, Michael Fairman

DIRECTOR: Roger Donaldson

PRODUCER: Kevin Costner, Kevin O’Donnell, Marc Abraham, Peter O. Almond, Armyan Bernstein

SCRIPT: David Self, Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow (book The Kennedy Tapes - Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrzej Bartkowiak, Roger Deakins, Christopher Duddy

EDITOR: Conrad Buff

PRODUCTION DESIGN: J. Dennis Washington

MUSIC: Trevor Jones

RUNNING TIME: 138 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 3, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: December 19, 2001







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