Directed by Roger Donaldson
Written by David Self (based on Robert Kennedy’s memoir of the same title with additional material from recently released archives)
Starring Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp
Tagline: You’ll Never Know How Close We Came
Trivia: Thirteen Days was Kevin Costner’s second film about the Kennedy’s after starring in Oliver Stone’s JFK in 1991.
Thirteen Days is a respectable cinematic recreation of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a few weeks in October 1962 when the world approached the brink of World War III. The film stars Kevin Costner as Kennedy aide and confidante Kenneth O’Donnell. Well acted and nicely paced, Thirteen Days operates on two levels: nostalgia and history.
Costner chews up the scenery as a fly on the wall in the corridors of power, but placed his ego aside to let the Kennedy brothers, played flawlessly by Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp, get the spotlight.
After Soviet nuclear missiles were discovered in Cuba an international crisis ensued. President Kennedy went on television and demanded the missiles be removed. Military leaders pressured Kennedy to launch an invasion of Cuba, but he demurred knowing such a course would lead to war. So Kennedy struggled to find a peaceful exit from the crisis.
JFK put together a group known as Executive Committee (Ex-Comm) to play out different scenarios and recommend a course of action. So instead of war, they introduced a blockade (or quarantine) of Cuba. As the crisis intensified the pressure to invade grew until a diplomatic solution was finally reached (Soviets agreed to pull put the missiles and America agreed remove theirs from Turkey.
Greenwood’s JFK is smart, cautious, never loses his cool. We also see how much he depended heavily on his brother to handle the rougher edges of politics. They made a great team, at least in movie history (the real history would bear that out).
Unfortunately, there’s nothing on the Soviet point of view or even their motivations for putting the missiles in Cuba.
I suppose Thirteen Days will feel like homework to many viewers, a movie tailor made for High School History class. Nevertheless it serves its purpose: a snapshot film about crisis, history, and character.