In the early 1960's, the world came the closest it has ever come to nuclear holocaust. It happened when Communist Russia began to secretly place strategic nuclear weapons on the island of Cuba, just a mere 90 miles away from American soil. Thirteen Days is the story of the JFK Administration and how they found out about the missiles, and what they did about them.
Kevin Costner stars as Kenny O'Donnell, JFK's political advisor and close friends. Through his eyes we see a series of events unfold, and a number of political machines working together and against each other for various reasons. What Thirteen Days presents is not a straightforward look at the Cuban Missile Crisis as we've read in the textbooks; some of the Generals are looking for war, JFK's advisors are looking for anything but, and JFK is hovering between the two. Even though we know how it ends, it is still surprisingly suspenseful.
Costner may not have been the best choice for the accented Kenny O'Donnell. Though he his charismatic and brings a lot of energy to his character, his actual accent doesn't fit with the others. It sounds a little cheesy and isn't that believable. Then again, it is a very minor flaw in a grand movie.
Bruce Greenwood as John F. Kennedy is very good, on the other hand. While he doesn't get as much screen time as Costner, he plays a pivotal role (of course) and we really get to see his frustration, hesitation, and stress throughout the film. Every option he has is incredibly risky, and we really get to go into his mind.
His on-screen brother Bobby Kennedy is played by Steven Culp, who steals the show. He brings a fierce and believable character to the big screen, and while we do see compassion in him we also see a very strong person. I really enjoyed watching him on screen; he was the most interesting to watch.
In terms of politics, Thirteen Days goes really in depth. I don't know how much of this stuff actually happened, but the movie makes you believe that all of it did. Though there are only brief "action" sequences, the movie is suspenseful the whole way through, even though mostly everything is filmed within the White House. There are so many back-and-forth workings going on that it is hard to be bored.
Most of the time. Thirteen Days does lag in parts, especially since it is drawn out over two and a half hours. Realistically, fifteen minutes could have been cut off the running time without losing anything, and a large chunk of those fifteen minutes happens near the end. The only real flaws in the movie come when the story decides to look into Costner's character and his struggle between his work life and his family life. This really is an unnecessary element of the story, and actually ends up being sort of cheesy at the very end.
Still, there are several very strong scenes that counteract the slow ones. The portion where the United States has just assembled the blockade, and their U.N. Representative is confronting the Russians is just incredible. It is strong, powerful, and memorable.
My only other complaint lies in the black and white segments of the film. I really don't know why there are black and white segments, unless the director messed up with the film. The black and white scenes seem rather random, and there are a lot more in the first half of the film than in the second half, as if everyone just decided that they were stupid.
I would have liked to see the film more through the eyes of JFK himself than through Kenny O'Donnell's, but what I got is what I got. Thirteen Days is a well done and suspenseful political thriller, worthy of honor. It has a few flaws but the sheer magnitude of the film is more than enough to win me over.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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