Recommended Viewing Situation:
Sitting in your underground bunker, contemplating the post-apocalyptic after-scape we came so close to creating.
Running time: 145 minutes.
Format: 35mm Colour. Panavision Cameras and Lenses.
Director: Roger Donaldson.
Writer: David Self, Ernest R. May (book).
Awards: 2 Golden Satellite Award’s & Political Film Society USA award.
Set in October of 1962, Thirteen Days is an attempt to accurately tell the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. United States surveillance aircrafts photographed nuclear-capable missile sites being set up on the now communist Island of Cuba. Washington believed that this was a move that would give the Soviet Union first strike capabilities in the event of a nuclear war. Relations between the two super-powers were already frosty from the fallout of the failed Bay Of Pigs invasion that was green lit by President Kennedy just a year prior.
The story is based around President John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy (Steven Culp) and their childhood friend Special Assistant to the President Kenneth O’Donnell (Kevin Costner). The chemistry between these three actors is the major strength of the film, their relationship comes across as authentic, you believe that these are three old friends that have worked together for years and now find themselves in the world’s highest office and the globe was sitting on the edge of a knife. While Costner is the marquee name, all three characters have equal screen time and equal importance to the story which arguably gives the film three protagonists, with Culp’s performance as RFK shining through. He is calm, considered and calculating much like his real life counterpart, he is able to portray both sides of Robert’s character; a shy man on the outside but a hardened ruthless politician under the surface, working behind the scenes as the President’s political enforcer.
This is not fast-paced political thriller, it’s slow and filled with references to political figures, scandals and history of the era, so a little prior knowledge before viewing is a plus but not entirely essential. For me, this is one of the few movies that felt like I was watching a novel or stage play being performed before me; the true scale of the crisis told through eyes of three men without the need for flashy cutaways or an overly dramatic score. The few ‘action’ scenes it has are a little underwhelming but work as a plus for a film very much set in the real world, the dialogue and performances are given the space to do the heavy lifting.
While an effort to stay accurate to true events is certainly apparent, there are a few dings in the armour. For example Costner’s portrayal of Kenneth O’Donnell is beefed up to make him a major player in the decisions made during the thirteen days of the crisis. While he certainly was there at JFK’s side during the whole ordeal his character is given some of the traits of EXCOMM member Robert McNamara, who was the real third man behind the scenes.
This is a faithful retelling of how close we came to a real world mad max scenario, the iron whipped out of the fire at the last minute, through late night skull sessions, a lot of whisky and plain political guessing. For people who enjoy history and a more subtle type of story telling this is a must, just be prepared for Costner’s, let’s say ‘great try’ at a Bostonian accent.