Thirteen Days (2000) Poster


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Thrilling Examination Of A Tense Moment In History
CRichardSemple17 April 2001
The fact of JFK's assassination, and especially the highly mysterious circumstances surrounding it, has resulted in a very distinct historical niche being carved around him. However, the majority of written examinations have concerned his assassination. The man's presidency, short though it was, was fraught with fascinating events and, both in literature and in film, they remain frustratingly under-examined. Which is why "Thirteen Days" is such a treat.

What the film essentially does is offer us a clearly partly-fictionalised but fairly true to the events account of the thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. It's a fascinating close-up on a fascinating man, who might have been a truly great president if he had gotten a proper chance. Of course, the filmic portrayal of JFK may be just a tad overly sympathetic, and the treatment of the military a tad overly harsh, and the importance of Kenny O'Donnell, played by Kevin Costner, is probably exaggerated, but these are minor quibbles. What this film really does is show us just how complicated and multi-faceted was the problem of Russian nuclear missiles being installed in Cuba. Not only did the president have to face the dim and distant threat of a faceless Russian bureaucracy, he had to deal with the multiple and conflicting options constantly being advanced to him, the dangers posed by certain special interests in military and intelligence and the popular opinion of the American people. The repercussions of any number of different courses of action were almost unthinkable. Tilting the hand seemingly in the American favour in one place, say in Cuba, would destabilise another danger zone, such as Berlin. Despite the fact that we all know how the events played out in the end, it can't be denied that this film keeps adding to the tension constantly, occasionally letting off a little and then piling on a whole lot more. It's a wonderful portrayal.

At its core, however, the film is an intelligent study of the ultimately paralysing effects of power, and the stark horror of mutual destruction as made possible by the harnessing of atomic power. The discovery of nuclear fission reactions has forever changed the face of warfare, because there now exists an ultimate solution so terrible it is almost beyond contemplation. In the comparatively safer times in which we now live, it is easy to forget how possible, perhaps even likely, the threat of nuclear war. America was then, and remains now, the most powerful nation on the planet, and yet a single wrong move could have ended all that, and at the cost of millions of innocent lives. Bearing the weight of decisions which could cost so much must have been a horrible burden to Kennedy, and, if nothing else, we should thank our lucky stars that he didn't buckle under the multifarious pressures placed on him. This film is a tribute to reason over hotheadedness, and peace over war. We should not forget the lessons that time has to impart, and if this represents a way to remember, then everyone ought to watch it.
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In a word - WOW!
blanche-212 February 2007
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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Thirteen Days was a wonderfully acted, wonderfully told story about the 13 days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a time when the world almost came to an end.
chrisbrown645318 July 2001
Shown through the eyes of presidential aide Kenneth P. O'Donnell (Kevin Costner), we see the inner workings of President John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) and his closest advisors as they try and find the best way to end a potentially devastating showdown with the U.S.S.R. In October of 1962, the U.S., during a regular mission photographing Cuba, spotted a missile buildup by the Russians. The missiles were powerful enough to kill 80 million Americans with only 5 minutes of warning time. President Kennedy had to decide quickly what action to take. With his trusted aide Kenny O'Donnell and his brother Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (Steven Culp), and others such as Robert McNamara, Adlai Stevenson, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Acheson, Dean Rusk, and many more, Kennedy needed to figure out the best course of action. If he allowed the Russians to aim these missiles at the U.S., the United States would be placed in a potentially deadly situation. If Kennedy allowed the military to attack the missiles and destroy them, what would Russia do as a response? If he waited too long, would Russia simply attack the U.S.? If he backed down and agreed to take down U.S. missiles in Turkey, would the U.S. then look weak to the rest of the world? For such a young President, Kennedy had a lot of tough decisions to make, in a short amount of time, with the world hanging in the balance.

I wasn't alive during the Cuban Missile Crisis as it occurred, so seeing Thirteen Days was like having a history lesson at the same time as having great entertainment. Even though I knew that we didn't end up in World War III, there were a lot of things I didn't know. I won't go into any of the specifics, but I never fully understood how close we came to destroying the planet. The tensions of the time were brought out successfully by director Roger Donaldson. You could see and feel the sweat on all the major players as each minute ticked by. Bruce Greenwood did a tremendous job as the young President Kennedy, showing how Kennedy was strong enough to stand by his morals and values, even as his most trusted advisors were urging him to go to war. At the same time, Greenwood was able to portray Kennedy as someone who needed help and was able to turn to his brother for guidance. Kevin Costner did a good job as Kennedy's presidential aide. I especially liked his boston accent. Costner was a strong personality that worked well with Greenwood and Steven Culp. I believed that the three of them were friends for 15 years and that they trusted each other with their own lives. Other acting standouts to me were Dylan Baker as Robert McNamara and Michael Fairman as Adlai Stevenson.

Even running at almost two and a half hours, I was always at the edge of my seat, wondering what was going to happen next. Like I said before, I wasn't even born yet, nor was it something I ever learned about in school, so I had no idea what was going to happen. It was nice being able to get deep inside the mind of these important people during this crucial time. Of course, I have no idea if what was said during these meetings was actually said in real life, but I'd like to believe that at least the outcomes of the meetings were true. I'm a big fan of these kinds of dramatic films based on real life events. While being entertaining, they also have the ability to teach you about history. Reading about these situations in books isn't nearly as enjoyable as being able to watch them on screen. I think screenwriter David Self did a great job of bringing these real life events to life on the big screen. He made it historical but didn't bore you with too much talk or information. Along with Donaldson, he gave you what you needed to know, and let the actors bring you into the action.

So overall, I thought Thirteen Days was a great film. Well acted, well directed, well written, nice musical score and very entertaining throughout. And if you happen to learn something along the way like I did, then even better.
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Taut Thriller
Ajtlawyer8 April 2002
This is an outstanding re-telling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The weakest part of the movie of course is Kevin Costner who wisely cast himself in the part of presidential assistant Kenny O'Donnell rather than take on the JFK role. In order to give Costner a lot to do they make Kenny O'Donnell out to be a sort of behind-the-scenes king-maker rather than the office gofer that he probably really was. But it was a clever device to get the audience into the inner workings of the Kennedy White House without making JFK or RFK the lead character. The scenes that work best are when O'Donnell is the fly-on-the-wall sitting in at Cabinet meetings and meetings with the Joint Chiefs and letting the real decision-makers and advisers talk.

Much of the real JFK Cabinet discussions were recorded or transcribed for history and so I'm sure that much of the dialog for those scenes is what the principals really said. The movie is a tremendous look at crisis management and decision-making under extreme pressure.

The military leaders are made out to be the semi-villains in this movie, pushing JFK to attack Cuba and launch WWIII and at some points seeming to even disobey or skirt his orders. When watching the movie I kept remembering that JFK was the youngest man ever elected president and that he was only 45 yrs old when this happened. Most of his Cabinet and all of the Joint Chiefs were much older than him and that tension comes across as the older men seem to barely be able to hold back their condescending attitudes towards the young president.

With the exception of Costner, the acting in this movie is first rate and Bruce Greenwood as JFK was certainly deserving of Oscar consideration. It is always hard for an actor to play a historical figure like JFK who is more legend now than man. Greenwood wisely does not try to mimic JFK's accent but he does get inside the character and you can see JFK thinking his way through the crisis with nothing less than future of the entire human race riding on his decisions. Steven Culp was outstanding as well as RFK, perfectly mimicking RFK's mannerisms and way of speaking but again, getting inside the character so we can really see the man rather than just an impersonation. The success of the entire movie depending on Greenwood and Culp nailing their parts and they did so terrifically.

Viewers might be interested in finding a copy of "Missiles of October" which was a TV-movie in the 1970s and done much like a stage play. William Devane played JFK and Martin Sheen RFK. The movie also gave much screen time to the Kruschev character.
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JackHorohoe20 February 2006
I served aboard the USS Joseph P. Kennedy which was depicted in the film. The Kennedy was the ship that boarded the Marcula in the waters off the Bahamas. The Kennedy, now part of Battleship cove in Fall River, Ma., actually played herself in the film. The actual boarding was not as quite dramatic as depicted in the movie.

The boarding party for instance did not wear dress white uniforms and the Marcula was more of a "rust bucket" than depicted in the movie. Although the 5 inch guns were aimed at the vessel, I don't recall a shot being fired.

As far as the movie is concerned I though it gave a rather accurate accounting of the circumstances that surrounded this time in history with a few embellishment's that are purely thrown in as theatrical license.
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Historic movie about Cuban Missile Crisis with intrigue , tension and good performances
ma-cortes9 July 2010
The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis seen through the eyes of President assistant Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner who hands perfectly the role )as trusted confidante and with significance importance of Robert Kennedy ( Steven Culp who bears remarkable resemblance )and of course President John F . Kennedy ( a solid Bruce Greenwood ) . This interesting film widely develops the Cuban Missile Crisis that was a confrontation between the Soviet Union, Cuba and the United States in October 1962, during the Cold War. The picture is packed with suspense , drama , historical deeds and is quite entertaining . It's correctly based on facts and the few sacrifices of accuracy are realized in the sense of of dramatic license . The motion picture is very well directed by Roger Donaldson who formerly worked with Costner in another suspenseful movie and also plenty of political intrigue titled ¨No way out (87) ¨ .

Adding more details over the widely depicted on the movie the events happened of the following manner : In September 1962, the Cuban and Soviet governments began to surreptitiously build bases in Cuba for a number of medium- and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles (MRBMs and IRBMs) with the ability to strike most of the continental United States. This action was subsequent to the 1958 deployment of Thor IRBMs in the UK and Jupiter IRBMs to Italy and Turkey in 1961; more than 100 U.S.-built missiles having the capability to strike Moscow with nuclear warheads. On October 14, 1962, a United States U-2 photo-reconnaissance plane captured photographic proof of Soviet missile bases under construction in Cuba.The ensuing crisis ranks with the Berlin Blockade as one of the major confrontations of the Cold War and is generally regarded as the moment in which the Cold War came closest to turning into a nuclear conflict .The US President ( Bruce Greenwood) , Attorney General Robert Kennedy (Steven Culp ),State Secretary Robert McNamara ( Dylan Baker ) and his military staff ( Bill Smitrovich , Ed Lauter , James Karen , Len Cariou) and general Curtis LeMay (Kevin Conway ) considered attacking Cuba via air and sea and settled on a "quarantine" of Cuba. The U.S. announced that it would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba and demanded that the Soviets dismantle the missile bases already under construction or completed in Cuba and remove all offensive weapons. The Kennedy administration held a slim hope that the Kremlin would agree to their demands, and expected a military confrontation. On the Soviet end, Nikita Khrushchev wrote Kennedy that his quarantine of "navigation in international waters and air space to constitute an act of aggression propelling humankind into the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war." Fidel Castro encouraged Khrushchev to launch a preemptive first-strike nuclear attack on the U.S. The Soviets publicly balked at the U.S. demands, but in secret back-channel communications initiated a proposal to resolve the crisis. The confrontation ended on October 28, 1962 when President John F. Kennedy and United Nations Secretary-General U Thant reached an agreement with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to dismantle the offensive weapons and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for an agreement by the United States to never invade Cuba. The Soviets removed the missile systems and their support equipment, loading them onto eight Soviet ships from November 5–9. A month later, on December 5 and 6, the Soviet IL-28 bombers were loaded onto three Soviet ships and shipped back to Russia. The quarantine was formally ended previously on November 20, 1962. As a secret part of the agreement, all US-built Thor and Jupiter IRBMs deployed in Europe were deactivated by September 1963.The Cuban Missile Crisis spurred the creation of the Hotline Agreement and the Moscow-Washington hot line, a direct communications link between Moscow and Washington .
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Almost the end of civilization as we know it.
princesss_buttercup319 June 2008
I watched this movie today with a number of students from my International Politics class, and from the standpoint of a politics professor, this film was absolutely extraordinary. This is a movie about the development of foreign policy in a crisis; it spells out with brilliant detail the decision-making process of JFK's inner circle, the tension between the Executive Office of the President and the Departments of State and Defense, and the attempts by the Military Industrial Complex (namely the Joint Chiefs) to undermine the diplomatic approaches favored by the president. It highlights the conflict between military standard operating procedures ("rules of engagement") and the better judgment/common sense of right-thinking human beings. It hints at conspiracies to (later) depose and otherwise get rid of both Kennedy and Khruschev from within for what turned out to be a very unpopular resolution with the hardliners on both sides. I especially like that the movie acknowledged the humanity of the individual decision-makers without getting too Capra-esquire or preachy.

I can see why this film hasn't been a great commercial success. It is not your standard big studio fare. It's quite cerebral, and although it has some exciting pre-conflict scenes, it's not a "war film". (It reminds me a bit of "Three Kings" in that regard- both films were, in my opinion, mis-marketed. They both seemed to target the younger male action crowd, when both movies are really made for a more intellectual audience.) I liked how the Soviets were not cartoonishly vilified, as is common in a lot of Cold War era films. They were shown to be somewhat calculating and strategic, but not irrational or more importantly, inhuman. In fact, one of the most fascinating parts of the film is the revelation that both sides lack information as to the other side's true intentions. It was this uncertainty that back in October 1962, could have led to the end of civilization as we know it.

The acting was solid (Steven Culp was very, very good as Robert Kennedy- so good, in fact, that I'm afraid he'll have a hard time getting cast in the future. There was audible gasp in the audience when he came on the screen and WAS Bobby). Coaster's accent was actually annoying (as an earlier reviewer noted), but it's forgivable in light of the moving, somewhat understated performance he turns in. It is the directing that takes the cake, however. From the moment the chain of events was set in motion, the tension does NOT let up. It actually feels like you are back in 1962 living through the events of those two weeks- honestly, there was nary a moment to relax until the resolution was wrought. I recommend this film especially strongly to high school and college age students who are too young to have any Cold War memory, as well as to those who lived through the era and may have forgotten what it felt like to come this close.
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Good view on possibly the most tense thirteen days of the 20th century.
Boba_Fett113824 January 2006
Basically this movie is a great history lesson. If you want to know more about the cold war and the Cuba missile crisis in particular this is a perfect medium for you to start with. The movie is quite detailed and accurate even though of course some moments and characters have been 'over-dramatized' for the good of the movie and its flow and emotions.

Even though you already know from start till finish how this movie is going to end, it still is a tense movie to watch. The story is build up well and makes the movie really interesting and compelling to follow. It perfectly captures the tension of the whole crisis and really makes you realize how close the world actually came to a WW III. It makes us aware of the fact that those 13 days in history should always be remembered and used as a lesson for the entire world now and forever. It's too bad that the movie becomes a bit too moralistic at times, especially toward the ending.

Bruce Greenwood doesn't really look like JFK but he's a good actor, so he becomes believable enough in his role trough his acting skills. Steven Culp really does look like Robert Kennedy and on top of that he also is a great actor. I wasn't always happy with Kevin Costner performance but overall he did an acceptable job. There are some weaker moments which involves his character but I more blame those moments to the at times too moralistic written script.

A bit of a disappointing aspect of the whole movie is its style. Roger Donaldson at times tries to be over-artistic and mixes the movie with black & white and color images. Perhaps he tried to copy Oliver Stone's style? Who knows. The cinematography was also disappointingly standard but thankfully the good editing saved this a little. Also the musical score by Trevor Jones is surprisingly solid.

Overall it's a very good political movie that has some great tense and important moments in it and also works great as a history lesson.

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"Powerful" doesn't even begin to describe it.
The Garthster20 January 2001
"Thirteen Days" is a powerful and gripping movie. Actually, I'm not sure if 'powerful' is a strong enough word to describe it. I was immediately sucked in and, in fact, the only time reality came back to me during the entire movie was when my friend, who'd fallen asleep, suddenly jumped up wide awake at the roar of the jets... When the movie let out, everyone was yawning and stretching and in some way or another, complaining.

Not me, I was pumped up and ready to go talk about it to someone, I didn't care who, for hours and hours. Who cares if it was 'thirteen days long' or if Kevin Costner's accent was a little annoying? Admit it, the movie was about as good as movie's get. The acting was perfect (I believe Bruce Greenwood should at least get a Best Actor nomination, possibly Culp, too, for Supporting Actor), and the script... man, did somebody put some time into that script! Not only was it historically accurate (to the best of my knowledge anyway) but it was heart-warming and witty and was full of those "great lines" that people will memorize and repeat over and over for many years to come. My favorite part, however, is just a shot of Kevin Costner coming home. He gets out of his car, and instead of going inside his house, he turns and looks at his street, his neighborhood, his world... I hate saying more than I should, but if you've seen the movie you know what I'm talking about. The emotion that is shown in that scene... it gives me chills just thinking about it.

This film is intelligent, and beautiful, and 'powerful.' Believe me, if you see this movie, you'll not soon forget it...
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The Godfather of political thrillers. Magnificent!
Bill Stoll18 January 2001
This is The Godfather of political thrillers. Magnificent! Until the final frames - when JFK addresses the White House staff - I expected another critical problem to emerge. These `wrinkles' kept me perched on the edge of my seat. I was naïve and 11 at the time. This is a movie not to be missed.

The President's Special Assistant (Kenny O'Donnell aka Kevin Costner) tells the story. He connects you intimately to the Kennedy White House, the early 60s military machinery … balanced against faith and family. Every emotion kicks into gear over the course of the film. At the end of the day, you're thankful the man in the oval office was a smart fellow. We need smart people in that office.

There's a thing called `heart' sprinkled liberally throughout. Performances are thoroughly believable, as though this is unfolding here and now. Greenwood and Culp are plausible Kennedy brothers after all their predecessors, a tough job given the liberal supply of Kennedy film. Your heart pours out for the insiders who knew how close the world came to the brink. Then please, join me in becoming a little cynical about the government's `world safety' report veracity going forward. Thirteen Days shows you why the government, the press, and the people need to be in constant check and balance to be effective.

A football metaphor weaves effectively through the film, though the teams are cliquish at best. Ex-Harvard quarterback Kenny O'Donnell now serves as a linebacker for the Kennedy team. He's an insider; close … a (near-family) friend. In a crisis, loyalty and teamwork to America's quarterback (JFK) is the prescription for sanity. War zealots surround and abound. Someone needs the cooler head – to be the wiser man – in a world where warfare is being redefined with weapons of annihilation.

Minutia: There's always something for a fanatic like me. I spotted a bowl of Post's fruity Pebbles cereal at the O'Donnell breakfast table in the closing minutes. I don't think these had been invented yet. The thing is: If I have to dig `that deep' to find flaws with the film's presentation quality, it's a pretty darned good. I am sure there are historical flaws, but this is close enough for government work.

I'm still naïve, but no longer 11 years old. Movies have to be well made / well told to satisfy. An entertainment adventure you will enjoy no matter your age, gender, race, religion or political persuasions. It rates 9 out of 10 possible points. But unlike its Godfather intensity, I hope there's never a sequel to this one.
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" I can wait till hell freezes over for your answer"
thinker169119 July 2007
In the 1960's few realized how close the world came to Nuclear Winter. Even today, with all the resources at hand, fewer care who prevented the Third World War. One thing is certain, America was enormously fortunate to have had as President of the United States, John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) during those nearly fatal "13 Days." As the thinking man's president, Mr. Kennedy was lucky to have in his cabinet men of intellect and reason. His main confident was his younger brother, Robert Kennedy (Steven Culp) who proved invaluable as Attorney General. When the world learned of the Nuclear threat ninety miles away, Kennedy came to rely heavily on his political adviser Kenny O'Donald (Kevin Costner) who displayed cautious insight and prudent judgment in critical moments which could have proved disastrous had the Joint Chiefs of Staff gotten their way. Further, Kennedy was definitely fortunate to have selected as his ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson (Michael Fairman) who stood toe to toe with Russian's Valerian Zorin (Oleg Vidov) and did not back down. The film is dramatic and terrifyingly accurate with dated Black and White footage and actual verbal scripts from hidden recordings from the oval office. What we know today is; had the Administration followed the prodding of the military, they would have initiated the Third World War as the Russian military in Cuba, actually had short range Atomic warheads at their disposal. This is a frightening film for rational people. ****
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pulse pounding presidential pic
mikel weisser17 December 2001
It is truly amazing the amount of tension Roger Donaldson manages to wring out of this 40 year old story of the Cuban Missile Crisis, even though we already know the ending. In the theaters this film was my choice for picture of the year for 2000 and on several top ten lists. Now on video, even at second viewer it remains awesome in its power to capture the moment when the world almost ended. Long time Aussie transplant, Donaldson re-teams with the leading man in his 1987 hit No Way Out, Kevin Costner, who also serves as co-producer, to deliver one of the best build political true to life thrillers of all time. The film won several second tier nominations and picked up awards for editing and its peace content (from the Political Film society no less) plus an award for the man who is the real star of the film, Costner's broad as a baked bean "Baaaaaw-stin" accent aside. Canadian Bruce Greenwood is riveting, powerful and fascinating as the man of the hour, John F. Kennedy, a president with the fate of the world on his hands and a cabinet full of warhawks anxious to pull the trigger on their rack full of A-bombs once the Soviets started planting nukes in Cuba. Greenwood eerily channels JFK onto the screen both sounding and looking astonishingly like the 1962 Kennedy and Steven Culp as RFK is an equally impressive mimic. At first it is almost impossible to focus on the action whenever Greenwood is on the screen, the impersonation is that uncanny. Many people, including Entertainment Weekly, championed Greenwood for lead and/or supporting Oscar nods and were surprised when he was left out. But the success of the film is more a casting stunt. David Self's script skillfully converts anecdotes into actions and converts the sprawling events of 13 of the most documented days in world history into a comprehensible two and a half hour narrative flow. Donaldson and editor Conrad Buff (who picked up a Golden Satellite Award for his work here) work all the angles: mixing film stocks, jump and dissolve cuts, rapid fire editing during high tension scenes and a cute trick of fading from black and white to color during a scene which along with the photo-realism images of Greenwood and Culp often leave the viewer wondering if they're watching a movie or a newsreel (real tape of Kennedy speaking is mixed in so skillfully you can't always tell whether it's Greenwood or Kennedy speaking). Donaldson does not take the potential of thermal nuclear annihilation lightly and neither does his film. With frequent legitimate shots of blossoming mushroom clouds (they blew up an awful lot of nukes in those days), Donaldson constantly reminds us what the stakes were when the cold war heated up to a near inferno and our two nations stood eyeball to eyeball hoping someone would have sense enough to blink.
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Superb movie
rrathgeber14 July 2007
Having lived through the Cuban missile crisis and seen my teachers being called back into service I found this movie to be extremely realistic. It's amazing the similarity of the actors to the real people, particularly Bobby Kennedy and McNamara. The underlying tension and the restrained acting reminded me of the movie Seven Days in May. The Portrayal of John F. Kennedy was remarkable in so far as one doesn't even notice that his physical appearance is off. His mannerisms and acting portrayed John F. Kennedy so well that he blends into the character perfectly. The tension exhibited by the actors in this movie reflects accurately the tension the nation felt during those awful days when we had to practice atomic bomb drills in school. Kevin Costner's portrayal of Kenny O'Donnell seemed right on the mark, as did the actor who portrayed Adli Stevenson. Those scenes which took place the United Nations were particularly moving sadly, they have not been repeated in present times. If only Colin Powell could have made such an impact with the UN perhaps the war in Iraq would have been unnecessary.
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Very well done.
A_Roode30 May 2006
Poor Kevin Costner. I get the feeling that he just can't win no matter what he does. He gets slammed for being in films and not using an appropriate accent. Need we look any further than 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves'? When he does use an accurate accent, as he does in 'Thirteen Days,' he gets slammed for trying to elevate his game to a playing field dominated by more well liked method actors. I've heard an argument before that he should just stick to making westerns since, allegedly, they're the only films that he does well. Many would immediately argue that 'Wyatt Earp' cancels out 'Dances With Wolves.' I argue instead that people are just too hard on Kevin Costner and 'Thirteen Days' is a very good example of why he deserves a bit of a break.

'Thirteen Days' was the fastest two and a half hours that I've sat through in a long time. The film was absolutely engrossing and very tense. Everyone knows what happens (or should be able to infer it since we'd all be dead right now if things hadn't worked out so well) but the writing and direction deserve great credit. They were able to transfer the tension from the historical situation and bring it to the screen with electricity. I think it works brilliantly well for two main reasons: 1. The viewer may know what is going to happen, but the characters don't. They are stressed, terrified and at the breaking point. One wrong move and the whole world is obliterated. If that isn't good drama, I don't know what is. 2. The film makers very wisely resisted the impulse to try and show things from the Soviet point of view. The strength of the film is the peril of the situation and the terror of not knowing what the other guy is trying to do. By filming from solely an American perspective and keeping both the characters and audience in the dark, this character driven movie excels.

A second brilliant strategy employed by the film makers was in the casting. With the exception of Costner, there are no real stars. Instead there are more reliable, hard-working and chameleon-like character actors. Len Cariou, Dylan Baker, Stephen Culp, and Bruce Greenwood are just a small sampling. Greenwood plays JFK and excellently plays a man desperate for peace but surrounded by calls for swift military action. He sees the bigger picture where others don't, but may not be able to navigate the smaller picture without help. Dylan Baker is a doppelganger and his performance as McNamara is spot on.

Highly recommended.
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Gripping, Intelligent, Moving Political Thriller
"Thirteen Days" is a gripping, intelligent, moving political thriller of the kind which is all too rarely made in the US any more.

You may be thinking, "Do I want to watch this? How can I get involved in the plot? After all, we all know how the Cuban missile crisis ended -- neither Kennedy nor Krushchev dropped the bomb." That's what I thought. I thought a movie whose suspense hinges on whether or not the bomb will be dropped would bore me, given that I know how events turned out.

The movie is well made, though, and I was gripped by it from the first scene. I really was on the edge of my seat.

So, yes, even though these are historical events, the film is highly suspenseful.

It has more to offer than suspense, though, something very important in these waning days of George Bush Jr.'s second administration.

The film depicts the most powerful men in the world struggling NOT to flex their power.

They have the bomb -- and they don't want to drop it. They have evidence that America's arch enemy, the Soviet Union, has weapons of mass destruction a few miles off America's shores, in Cuba -- and they don't want to invade Cuba and overthrow Castro.

They could bomb the missile sites in Cuba, but they don't want to, because they know that that would turn world opinion against the US.

They stayed up late at night worrying about any American fighting men whose lives their actions might imperil. They stayed up late at night worrying about any innocent civilians in Cuba who might be collateral damage.

You get the picture. These men are depicted as the opposites of George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, et al, who wanted to use America's power to destroy, world opinion, and casualties, be damned.

Every scene in this movie is an education in how power can be used to restrain itself.

Too, there is a behind the scenes look at how advisers, the joint chiefs of staff, and cabinet secretaries jockey for position and work, by hook or by crook, to advance their point of view. There are a couple of really interesting screaming matches.

There are similar hints at what was going on in the Kremlin at this same time. There are spies and counter spies, and analysts trying to figure out who is in charge in Russia by, for example, analyzing letters the White House is receiving -- did Krushchev write these letters? Or has there been a coup? The film is full of eye candy. There is archival film footage of aircraft carriers, submarines, missiles, rockets, planes ... if you are an ordnance nut, this is the film for you. There are, of course, recreations of all those hot fashions, the skinny ties and pastel dresses, men and women wore in those days.

The cast is great. Bruce Greenwood and Steven Kulp look a bit like JFK and RFK, but don't have their charisma. (Who does?) Dylan Baker is especially good as Robert McNamara. Kevin Costner is Kevin Costner, which, for those of us who like Kevin Costner, is a good thing. His accent is a bit wobbly, but I forgot about it after a while, I was so involved with the movie.

At the end of the movie, one of the very powerful men whose work we have been following breaks down in tears. I did, as well, appreciating how much this movie stimulated me to think, and moved me, as well.

Strongly recommended.
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Nexus of a Whole Generation
tedg26 January 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Usually I'm in the game for the filmmaking -- the Ollie Stone stuff if you will -- and get upset when the film relies wholly on script and acting. Plus, Costner annoys the heck out of me. But this film really works because it is relentless and because, well because it effectively captures an event which changed the world. I truly believe that no other two week period in the past half century has had as much societal effect.

I was in 10th grade in the Norfolk Virginia area during this period. Our high school and homes were opened to the navy dependents evacuated from Gitmo. Their dads and ours were the eyeballs and fists employed in this enterprise. We were certain we would all die. We traveled with money and medical records sewn into our clothes in the event that we were instantly orphaned and survived in some horrible state.

So much came out of what was distilled in this event. The hippy movement, both the peace part and the reckless drug part. The U2s flew out of `Area 51' and the military's obfuscating cover stories deliberately spawned a UFO culture that is still with us. So odd: a militarily manufactured counterculture.

The strong desire to hit the Soviets was pushed back (twice!) by Kennedy's levelheadedness. But the military was later able to flummox Johnson into Vietnam. Lemay had been pushing a first strike for 14 years by then and had actually arranged to steal bombs from Sandia in 1950. That is why today the weapons are under Department of Energy control, supposed civilians.

The point is that the story is so central to our modern existence as people that it has a rich mine to exploit -- and it does, so very effectively. Watching this, one wonders first how we could have lost these two. And more to the point, how we could produce our current President Gomer. How do you think he will deal with situations like this? That was the real fear this film created, zooming in from the past.

An aside: the props and weapons are carefully researched, as was the inclusion of young Lawford whose dad pimped Marilyn to Jack as a reward.
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An old Fashioned Nail Biter
MisterWhiplash13 January 2001
Thirteen Days brings back the good old fashioned (and I mean good) nailbiter film here and even if you know history (thus knowing the outcome), there is still some good stuff here. Things that might've not been known to the average American back then now are revealed in thrilling tension that is only slightly eased by Kevin Costner who doesn't need to really be there (and has a stronger JFK accent that JFK does in this movie). The look at the Cuban missle crisis here is the heart of the movie and it works pretty good. Not great but good, and if your looking for a historical thriller, this is the one for the season. B+
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Can't understand the hype
Viator Veritatis26 June 2015
Frankly, I regard "13 days" more like a high-end television movie than a serious docudrama. It is a very American product; viewers unaccustomed to the clichés of standard Hollywood filmography are going to have a hard time swallowing the extremes of overdramatization saturating every single scene of the film. Everything is boosted up to keep the spectator on the edge indefinitely, which may appear as a merit to the American public but easily relapses in cheapness and bad taste to those used to a more thoughtful approach.

The way the story and the characters are developed is also standard Hollywood fare, with the black-and-white presentation of Kennedy as a national hero soundly rooted in the values of family, motherland and hard work, who regards his office as the highest duty and finally overcomes the warmongering ambitions of the generals.

Looks like being cynical, or simply realistic, is not allowed in American mainstream productions.

Even worst, the director makes no attempt to convey a picture of the political situation underlying the crisis, or to offer (even for a moment) the viewpoint of the Soviets and the Cubans. On the contrary, the first half an hour suggests the idea that the United States were the victim of an unprovoked, unilateral aggression. This is junk history. The reasons why the Soviets deployed the missiles in Cuba were 1) to retaliate for the US deployment of about one hundred nuclear missiles in Turkey and 2) to protect Cuba, after the CIA-orchestrated landing at the Bay of Pigs and while the US were practicing invasion forces as a show of strength on islands in the Caribbean. This was perfectly known to the Kennedy administration, and certainly must have played a large part in the conversations on how to deal with the crisis.

As a blockbuster "13 days" may have its merits, but as a serious historical movie it has a long way to go.
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Response to Jakemac08 comments on the Movie
straight_ballar29 November 2006
I'm not sure how much you know about the Cuban Missile Crisis jake, but Kenny O'Donnell was JFK's special assistant, appointed in 1960. He helped with his presidential campaign, and in 1957 he was appointed as Assistant Counsel, Select Committee to Investigate Improper Activities in Labor-Management Relations in the Senate. Which ended in 1959, and in turn in 1960 O'Donnell was the organizer and director of John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign schedule. The following year he became Kennedy's special assistant. SO Kevin Costner's role as Kenny O'Donnell is clearly a true role, and you are quite incorrect in trying to tell people it was made up. i agree Hollywood added its personal touches, which makes it a blockbuster film, however the depiction of actual events and problems are quite accurate. the movie is excellent for educating about the Cuban Missile Crisis, with few, if any, incorrect historical facts.
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The mother of Political thrillers
Jenny6 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
As one with a long held interest in the life and times of JFK I had high hopes for this film. I am pleased to say I was not let down in any way. Thirteen Days is easily the best historical and political thriller to come about in a long time.

The film of course centers around the events of the two weeks Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Through the eyes of Presidential aid Kenny O'Donnell, JFK himself and Bobby Kennedy it takes us through the Crisis from the moment the Missiles were spotted. It's real eye-opener because you can't believe how close we came to war.

Although Kevin Costner has received some flak for his New England accent I have to say that anyone who focuses in on trivial matters like that is missing the point of the film. O'Donnell serves as guide through the world of JFK and Ex-Comm. Costner's portrayal is a perfect mix of business like and friendship. Through his eyes we see the intimate workings of government and learn a thing or two about loyalties.

Personally though I think the movie belongs to Bruce Greenwood as JFK and Steven Culp as RFK. Greenwood, as the put upon President, is excellent. He looks the part (handsome and yet all business) and his accent is superb. He has Kennedy's various mannerisms and his habits of leaning a lot and sitting awkwardly to a tee. His JFK is shown as both a powerful leader and yet a vulnerable, exhausted and sick man.He carries the part like a true professional and I have yet to see a better Kennedy.

Poor Steven Culp tends to get overlooked as Bobby Kennedy but in fact this is one of his finest performances. Again he looks, speaks and acts the part to perfection. He is youthful and energetic but yet a top politician and business man. The closeness between Bobby and Jack is also wonderfully shown through little meaningful looks and glances between Culp and Greenwood.

The support cast are superb and the piece is historically accurate which is rare in film. There is suspense, action humor and strong remotion throughout. Hats off to a superb piece of film.
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Costner's character ruins it
earlgreyi11 January 2004
Costner's character is completely unbelieveable. The character comes off as showing almost no respect for the presidency, instead the president appears to be practically a puppet in his hands. It reeks of vanity from Costner's side.

While there were three major sides involved - USA, Soviet Union and Cuba - even though Thirteen Days is 2.5 hours long the Soviet and the Cuban side of the story is never shown, the movie focuses exclusively on the US. What motivated the Soviet and Cuban leadership? How did they react during the crisis? Surely it would have been interesting to get a glimpse of that.

In the end Thirteen Days is part documentary - with the usual liberties taken with regard to the truth - and part propaganda. Quite silly considering that the cold war has been over for a long time now.
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Has even more relevance today
Howard Schumann17 June 2007
Abraham Lincoln said in 1858 that "a house divided upon itself cannot stand". This prophecy almost came true during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 as President John F. Kennedy fought to avert war in Cuba against the determined opposition of his own military and Intelligence advisors. Dramatized in Roger Donaldson's powerful Thirteen Days, the entire world teetered on the brink of nuclear Armageddon for thirteen anxiety-filled days as the internal and external pressures mounted on both the President and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to keep the world from nuclear immolation.

Thirteen Days stars Kevin Costner as Presidential Aide Kenneth O'Donnell, Bruce Greenwood as JFK, Steven Culp as Bobby, and Dylan Baker as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and is based on the book "The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis", edited by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow. When a U-2 flyover discovered two dozen SS-4 nuclear missiles in Cuba pointing to the United States, American leaders had a very short window of time before the missiles became operational to find a way to remove them. Kennedy, who until this time had tried to placate both the right and the left, was faced with severely limited options.

Though different courses of action were discussed, the administration never questioned the underlying assumptions of the Cold War or the premise that the weapons were offensive rather than defensive and the film does not mention or discuss previous U.S. attempts to destabilize Cuba. With the CIA and the Pentagon calling for air strikes followed by a ground invasion, Kennedy knew that he could not afford to look weak or back down in face of the presumed Soviet threat. On the other hand, he was profoundly aware that an invasion would be met with Russian retaliation and probable nuclear war. His ultimate decision to order a naval blockade and a quarantine of Russian ships headed toward Cuba carrying offensive weapons was opposed by virtually Kennedy's entire national security apparatus.

The film shows the bluster of Joint Chiefs Chairman, Maxwell Taylor (Bill Smitrovich), Air Force Chief of Staff, Curtis LeMay (Kevin Conway), Chief of Naval Operations, George Anderson (Madison Mason) and other military leaders clamoring for an aggressive response. After a meeting with the Joint Chiefs, Kennedy said to O'Donnell, "These brass hats have one advantage in their favor. If we listen to them, and do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them that they were wrong." The conflict with the military and the CIA over how to handle Cuba would continue to dog Mr. Kennedy throughout his presidency and his overtures for rapprochement with Castro may have been a determining factor in his assassination.

The film describes in detail the confusing Soviet response to JFK's quarantine demands and the meeting between Bobby and Soviet Ambassador Andrei Dobrynin (Elya Baskin) is the dramatic high point of the film. Also vital is the crucial role played by UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson (Michael Fairman) in first proposing a diplomatic solution and in his strong defense of the U.S. position at the U.N. in confrontation with Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin (Oleg Vidov), much to the surprise of the Kennedy brothers who had decided he was "weak".

Thirteen Days unfolds through the eyes of Ken O'Donnell (Costner) and centers on his role in providing counsel and encouragement to Kennedy, though his role is vastly overstated. Costner is adequate in the role though he is a wooden actor and his attempt at a New England accent becomes increasingly irritating. Both Greenwood and Culp have the Kennedy's manner of speech and body language down pat but give very little hint of the Kennedy charm, wit, strength, charisma, or overriding self-confidence. Regardless of its flaws however, the film is an absolutely fascinating portrayal of a pivotal time in history and an important reminder of the tenuous thread that holds our civilization together and how quickly it can be shattered.

As John Kennedy reminded us in his speech at American University on June 10, 1963 quoted in the film, a speech that challenged Americans and Russians to rethink their attitudes toward each other, "We all inhabit this small planet", he said, "We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal." It was a speech that has even more relevance today and the need to eliminate nuclear weapons is more urgent than ever.
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Unnecessary Star
Ric-72 January 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Kevin Costner's character was totally unnecessary to this film. We could have done without the attempt to turn the Missile Crisis into a personal drama. The attempt to make this episode universal managed to trivialize it. Those same themes were dealt with more cogently in "Fail-Safe," both the film from the Missile Crisis era, and the recent live TV broadcast. I was hoping (against hope) that some new perspective would be added, and for a while, it appeared as though the Adlai Stevenson storyline would be pursued. I was wrong. Instead, we got more of the Costner family.

Also, Costner should avoid doing accents: not only does he do them badly (see, e.g., "JFK") but it is patronizing to assume that everyone from a given locale must have an accent. I've known a few people from the Boston area, and no one sounded like that.

Also, I want to know if it is possible to have a spoiler in a comment on a docudrama? Possibly there are some viewers who might not be aware how the crisis was resolved.
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awiltz22 October 2004
I recently saw Thirteen Days in my modern war class and i was highly impressed by its ability to create emotion and drama while at the same time being really historically accurate. I enjoyed the movie a lot because it was very easy to watch and at the same time it was teaching you about just how close America came to nuclear war. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who is interested in learning about our nations history while at the same time being entertained with an intriguing piece of film. The use of Kenny as a way to delve deeper into conversations between John and Bobby Kennedy was ingenious. The character of Kenny is not a real person however. It was a smart but not historically accurate tactic to use him. I highly recommend this movie.
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13 Reasons Not To See Any Movie With Kevin Costner
J. Wellington Peevis25 January 2002
Only Kevin Costner would have hubris enough to insert his mug alongside modern day legends JFK and RFK on a DVD case. Open up the case, and Costner is a one man wrecking crew that completely weakens an otherwise powerful film. I don't know if his Kenny ODonnell character is real or fiction, but he manages to make that point irrelevant. From his Forrest Gump type omnipresence to his truly not to be believed Mayor Quimby/JFK accent, Costner does more damage to the Kennedy brothers legacy than an unexpurgated Marilyn Monroe documentary. Is any reasonable person expected to believe that ODonnell's wisdom was the final word in the drama of the Cuban Missle crisis? No, but Costner in his advanced stage of megalomania overlooks this slight detail, in order to make a film in which HE appears to save the world. Again, its a darn shame. Great subject matter naturally, and it scores big on historic drama. If only he had had the courage and humility to simply produce this movie, and left himself as a minor character, or better still, out of shot altogether, this would probably go down as one of the better movies of its time. But his idiotic totally inappropriate appearances rob this film of any sense of realism, and consequently relevance. The tragedy of the failing Hollywood system is well represented in this film and its defining use of error in motion at all levels.
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