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Anna Maria Monticelli,
In October, 1962, U-2 surveillance photos reveal that the Soviet Union is in the process of placing nuclear weapons in Cuba. These weapons have the capability of wiping out most of the Eastern and Southern United States in minutes if they become operational. President John F. Kennedy and his advisors must come up with a plan of action against the Soviets. Kennedy is determined to show that he is strong enough to stand up to the threat, and the Pentagon advises U.S. military strikes against Cuba--which could lead the way to another U.S. invasion of the island. However, Kennedy is reluctant to follow through, because a U.S. invasion could cause the Soviets to retaliate in Europe. A nuclear showdown appears to be almost inevitable. Can it be prevented? Written by
In 1962, the world stood on the brink of World War III for "Thirteen Days," a 2000 film starring Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp and Dylan Baker, with direction by Roger Donaldson. The story concerns the "Cuban Missile Crisis," when the U.S. discovered that the Soviets had placed missiles aimed at the U.S. in Cuba.
As someone who remembers the situation well, watching this was a profound experience in more ways than one. A good deal of dialogue was taken from actual Presidential transcripts, which made watching it even more impressive. Looking at it from today's eyes, "Thirteen Days" is a knockout.
Donaldson focuses the film right where it should be - in the White House and in conference rooms, giving us only the subplot of Kenny O'Donnell's family life. For those posters who commented that O'Donnell was perhaps not a real person, yes, he was. It's impossible for me to believe that with a film that goes into so much detail and strove to be so factual, someone thought there was a made-up character. Try Google next time. Ken O'Donnell headed up Kennedy's presidential campaign and was appointed his Special Assistant when Kennedy won the White House. He was the most powerful of the President's advisers.
Several things become clear about the goings-on at the White House in 1962: None of the military leaders thought the Kennedy administration belonged in the White House; if it had been up to the military leaders, the situation would have caused World War III; JFK turned himself into a pretzel in order to pursue a diplomatic solution to the potential conflict. Though discouraged almost at every turn, JFK still would not allow the shooting to begin, pushing instead for an embargo against Cuba.
There is plenty of tension and excitement in this film. One of the best scenes is Commander Eckerd (Christopher Lawford) and his team low-flying over Cuba taking photos, and a U-2 pilot trying to avoid missiles chasing him. But most of the tension and excitement takes place in the meetings as the President and RFK struggle for answers and play for time. The mix is therefore ideal: drama, some aerial excitement, and a little humor as Adlai Stevenson gets the better of the Russians in an OAS meeting.
There's also a look at the reaction of the country - also very accurate. Yes, people piled into church, cleared the grocery shelves of everything, and stocked fallout shelters. We all watched the President on television. In fact, as he talked, my mother thought he was about to declare war. It was a terrifying time.
Kenny O'Donnell's role in all of this may have been somewhat exaggerated to make it a palatable role for Kevin Costner. Costner does okay in the part. Boston accents are very difficult to do without them sounding put on. It's very difficult to do accents in general and make them organic to the character. A few have succeeded: Anne Bancroft in "The Miracle Worker," Paul Newman in "Somebody Up There Likes Me," little Natalie Wood in "Tomorrow is Forever," Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever," and of course there are others. Jane Seymour and Joan Collins can easily pull off being Americans. All British actors can do a southern accent, since the southern accent started off as a British accent. Costner lays it on too thick and it's a distraction. But he certainly isn't bad in the role.
The casting people merely wanted to suggest JFK and RFK. In Steven Culp, they found a young actor with similar features to RFK. He does an effective job, given that it's tough going to portray such a famous person. The most successful in the film is Bruce Greenwood as JFK, who tries to keep the accent from overpowering the dialogue. In the President's television speech, I'm sure he imitated JFK's every single inflection and pause, and it's perfect. His JFK is a listener, very dependent on his brother's advice, and one who takes the burdens of the country on his shoulders like a cross. One of the posters here mentioned something to the effect that "we are led to believe that JFK leaned heavily on his advisors" as if this is a negative. Of course he did. Of course any President does or should. The final decisions belonged to him, and he had to be sure of all of the ramifications. Only an idiot doesn't hear every single opinion of value before he decides to launch World War III.
The camaraderie between RFK, JFK, and O'Donnell is as unmistakable as their arguments and frustrations.
Thirteen months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK would be dead and O'Donnell would be riding behind him in the Secret Service Car. After a particularly tough meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, O'Donnell insists that JFK sit for a minute, and JFK finally does. Worn out and not sleeping well, he laments about being President. "I just thought there would be more good days." In the end, we - and he - would have settled for just MORE days.
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