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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.
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
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.
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.
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.
"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...
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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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