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5 reviews, 56 user ratings

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13 Days
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by Erik Childress

"Quite Simply - A Well-Told History Lesson"
4 stars

Do you remember history class? Do you remember your history teacher? Remember how the school year would begin and you would start as far back on the calendar as possible, guaranteeing that you would barely crack the twentieth century in the book’s final chapters? Well, that was a nuisance because you would never begin where you left off the previous year, you would just start all over again, because like every teacher taught us, history repeats itself.

One historic event that we never made it to…ever…was the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, a topic you would think would be prime fodder for students living in the nuclear age, and during my high school years, during the time of Desert Storm. Yet, one of the pivotal standoffs of the Cold War has remained virtually absent from the big screen.

Joe Dante’s whimsical comedy, Matinee, used the Crisis to great effect as a backdrop to examine monster flicks. But the most recognized treatment comes from the 1974 mini-series, The Missiles of October which starred William Devane and Martin Sheen as JFK & RFK, respectively. Sheen graduated to JFK in the mini-series Kennedy and now Bruce Greenwood gets to play John in Roger Donaldson’s Thirteen Days, a solid historical drama that plays like a first-rate history lesson.

Based on the book, “The Kennedy Tapes - Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis”, we are thrown right into the thick of things from the discovery of the missiles to its resolution. Our guide through the thirteen days is one of the Kennedy’s chief advisors, Kenneth P. O’Donnell (Kevin Costner), a former Harvard classmate of Bobby’s (Steven Culp) and portrayed here as the most loyal confidant to the brothers.

While many of the events are filtered through O’Donnell and the Kennedys, we get introduced to an epic cast of characters. So many, in fact, that their names and ranks constantly introduce us to them, sometimes not until their second or third scenes. There are the “cooler heads” such as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (the great Dylan Baker) and U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson (Michael Fairman). Then there are the warbirds, led by Secretary of State Dean Acheson (Len Cariou) and Generals Maxwell Taylor (Bill Smitrovich) and Curtis LeMay (Kevin Conway).

All of these key players (and many more) all make their own advisory decisions to the President on which pieces to move around the chessboard. McNamara puts the idea of the naval blockade on the table while everyone frets about sending Stevenson out for negotiation as his tendency towards diplomacy label him weak-willed. The film’s tagline of “you'll never believe how close we came” is in no small part is reflective of the disturbing assumption that some member elites of the military would actually want war as opposed to diplomacy. This very possibility was also a notable factor surrounding the events of Kevin Costner’s other foray into Camelot, Oliver Stone’s JFK.

Performances are top-notch throughout with Costner returning to the type of role that brought him to and kept him on the public’s A-list before turning to lame forays into sappy romantic melodrama like The Bodyguard, Message in a Bottle and For Love of the Game. His accent here initially bursts upon us like a Bostonian Firestone tire unable to put the breaks on during the vowels, but it becomes less and less intrusive as does his character. Because even though he gets top billing attention on the poster, the real stars of this film are Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp as the Kennedy brothers.

Their portrayals are two of the best and most human I’ve ever seen of these two near-mythical figures in American history. Culp has actually played RFK before in HBO’s Norma Jean and Marilyn, but here he really gets to shine. And Greenwood is right with him every step of the way as the young Commander-in-Chief, who’s in love with the job, but is fully aware of the consequences it may bring under extreme circumstances.

Director Roger Donaldson does a fine job at keeping the pace up and letting the audience know where all the chess pieces are positioned. His occasional use of shifting to black-and-white proves more distracting than innovative. The palette doesn’t mirror a grainy documentarian-like newsreel footage to suggest we’re witnessing the actual event as it unfolded; it’s just an absence of color. It then becomes more a reflection of what Stone did, to greater effect, in JFK, then a way to enhance the mood.

Thirteen Days doesn’t raise the level of drama into the kind of suspense we’ve seen in previous historical biopics such as Apollo 13, Titanic or even JFK, but it still manages to squeeze a great deal of tension into yet another situation where we’re already aware of the outcome. Best scenes reflecting this include McNamara’s blaring attempt to avoid trigger-happy militarists from firing upon Russian ships, Stevenson’s “hell freezes over” speech, and a virtually suicidal mission to take photographs of the missiles that must be kept hush-hush from those with their gun barrels ready.

This is precisely the kind of movie that those of us with a thirst for events of the (recent) past love to go to the movies for to get the knowledge we were denied in the classroom. Then again, I attended Catholic schools that would rather tell parents not to let their kids watch The Day After and to teach about the personal lives of the gospel writers and the Crusades instead of something during the last half century. Thirteen Days lays out about as much as we can hope to learn of these events in two and a half hours and while its more a strategical talkfest than an action-packed modern-day Fail-Safe, its compelling nonetheless and is simply one great history lesson.

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originally posted: 01/11/01 09:51:59
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User Comments

3/19/08 Abhishek Chakraborty This movie rules 5 stars
1/03/08 ariel Im doin a report on this movie and i thought it was easy to compare to the actual event. 4 stars
1/29/07 Matt Edge-of-seat stuff even though we know the outcome. Greenwood is a great JFK. 5 stars
10/20/06 MP Bartley Ramps up the tension masterfully, with a great sense of period. Cast is wonderful. 5 stars
6/15/05 Courtney Colbow Sourceful 4 stars
2/26/05 Carl Great Movie 5 stars
5/27/04 Jose great movie, but for a history class only 4 stars
5/06/04 Desperado Where have you gone Jack and Bobby? oh what we could have accomplished, incredible movie 5 stars
12/03/03 nicole rob great! 5 stars
3/24/03 Jack Sommersby A masterpiece of high-tension drama and richly observed dramatics. A monumental achievement 5 stars
8/22/02 Sully when the fuck did JFK become a pussy? And those accents were terrible. OK flick. 3 stars
6/24/02 Baal Great movie! Awesome DVD! Very enjoyable. 5 stars
6/02/02 Chris The West Wing movie with JFK. I happen to love The West Wing, alot. 5 stars
5/21/02 Shrike I generally appreciate Costner's work and this is one of his best 4 stars
5/10/02 paul corbett It Was a good movie 5 stars
3/17/02 FlaFan One of Costner's best. He can be proud of his role in getting this to the screen. 5 stars
3/11/02 R.W. Welch Compelling account of the Missle Crisis, astutely done with a minimum of Hollywood hokum. 5 stars
2/22/02 Jeff all around excellent movie 5 stars
1/15/02 Sparky Polastri Fantastic flick to see once; w/all thats going on now, its even more interesting 5 stars
10/06/01 Obi Wan Great!!! Loved it!! I've watched this few times already and I just got the DVD! 5 stars
9/11/01 The Bomb 69 the Infinifilm DVD made this story so much more enjoyable, Costner's accent sux!!! 4 stars
9/04/01 phil m. afficiando Boring? Hmm..I'm 20, draft eligible, the world nearly got nuked. Needed what? Kung fu, sex? 5 stars
8/31/01 Bueller History buffs will love this. Costner shouldn't try to do a Boston accent. Very enjoyable. 4 stars
8/29/01 BRIAN HUDSON BORING 3 stars
8/28/01 Monday Morning Fascinating diplomatic, political and military "inside stories". 5 stars
8/20/01 Dimitris Spiropoulos See it again! 5 stars
8/13/01 G. Smith Very interesting. Very good for a Hollywood film. Better than "Pearl Harbor." 4 stars
8/07/01 J Personally I find it overrated and its accurancy is questionable. But its not bad. 3 stars
7/28/01 Steve A political thriller... never saw that one coming. Surprisingly good movie! 4 stars
7/24/01 The Castle Bookroom politics / personality / history drama of the highest order 5 stars
7/14/01 2DOGS Best suspense/drama I have seen in a while 4 stars
5/09/01 viking Better than Oliver Stone's JFK extravaganza. 4 stars
5/07/01 Belinda Did not understand what the hell was going on. Totally lost.! 1 stars
5/04/01 matthew smith an engrossing film 5 stars
5/01/01 Vanessa Balanced and truthful view of events focussing on the issue not the JFK /Jackie legend etc 4 stars
4/09/01 Gary I am a sucker for history movies and this one was another good one although boring a little 4 stars
2/25/01 Sophia Though I lived through it, I was still on the edge of my seat 5 stars
2/23/01 eugene Great movie, well-acted, historically accurate. Dump Costner though... 4 stars
2/16/01 The Evil Penguin "I was gonna eat that". 4 stars
2/12/01 Alyssa The reason Costner needs to stick with historicals. 5 stars
2/09/01 glo interesting movie. 4 stars
2/08/01 ObiWan Absolutely intense thriller. Steven Culp was great as Bobby Kennedy. 5 stars
2/06/01 Obi Wan Loved it. Great flick, a sleeper in my eyes. Will be overlooked due to highly marketed BS 5 stars
2/04/01 Benjamin Lesbian Fucking Awesome 5 stars
2/01/01 R Kramer If you love history you'll enjoy this film. 4 stars
1/24/01 Lord Raymos Bad accent, random b&w, but exciting and suspensful. 4 stars
1/24/01 Shawna It was very exciting! I'm not into history, but I really enjoyed this movie. 5 stars
1/23/01 Gail Incredible performances from everyone, especially Steven Culp; powerful and gripping. 5 stars
1/17/01 Jes Very Historically accurate... 5 stars
1/15/01 ThEoNe3510 Great performances across the board (especially Greenwood), solid direction, taut script... 5 stars
1/15/01 Alyssa Costner needs to stick with historicals. Edge of your seat good. Acting hit the mark. 5 stars
1/14/01 frankko even though costner is in it, it's still a fine film. 4 stars
1/13/01 Will that was pretty harrowing and interesting. 4 stars
1/12/01 Gariess Points for reminding us that there are always high ranking whackos in the Pentagon. 3 stars
1/05/01 Harlan Pepper Accurate? I dunno. Worth Seeing? Absolutely. 4 stars
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  12-Jan-2001 (PG-13)


  03-May-2001 (M)

Directed by
  Roger Donaldson

Written by
  David Self

  Kevin Costner
  Bruce Greenwood
  Steven Culp
  Dylan Baker
  Lucinda Jenney
  Peter White

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