Thirteen Days

"Good"

Thirteen Days Review


I don't know about you, but whenever I hear Kevin Costner is coming out with another two-hour-plus epic drama, I have a Pavlovian reaction of raging skepticism. After all, this man was the driving force behind "Waterworld" and "The Postman," not to mention the lengthy, maudlin romances "For the Love of the Game" and "Message In a Bottle."

So I admit I went in to "Thirteen Days" -- not only another Costner epic but another Costner revisionist history epic centering around John F. Kennedy -- expecting to cringe my way through it and subconsciously (?) looking for gaffes.

At first there were signs the film might live down to my expectations, like the title sequence's generically ominous stock footage of mushroom clouds and Costner's awk-cent, which begins as more Elmer Fudd than Kennedy compound before he eases into a smooth vocal rhythm. But within 10 minutes I was completely wrapped up in this fly-on-the-wall, pressure-cooker dramatization of what went down at the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I label the film revisionist because like "JFK," it features Costner as a historical footnote character whose role in events that shaped our nation is seemingly augmented to serve the dramatic purposes of the story.

That character is Kenny O'Donnell, a life-long Kennedy insider who served as a presidential adviser during the Camelot years. But accepting the concept that this man has substantial influence on the President (reporters did call him "the third brother") opens the door to an absorbing, tense portrayal of the agitated situation room infighting and tenuous diplomacy that arose as the world teetered on the brink of nuclear conflict.

In a lead role that is essentially a window to the actions of the supporting players, Costner does an impressive, precision job of turning up and down the volume of his screen presence based on what the Kennedys are doing in any particular scene.

When he's alone with John F. (Bruce Greenwood, "Double Jeopardy") and/or Attorney General Robert (Steven Culp), O'Donnell feels free to speak his mind, suggesting courses of action, pointing out fallacies in the President's thinking or helping him sidestep attempted blindsides by his malcontented military advisers. He's also the President's bulldog, enforcing his will in phone calls to congressmen or stepping up to confront a four-star general who gets belligerent with his Commander in Chief.

But during meetings with the Cabinet or the Joint Chiefs, Costner shrinks to the side, almost blending in with the wallpaper while subtly inferring O'Donnell's frustration with where his influence ends.

Such meetings are rife with tension that builds exponentially from the early scenes, in which U2 spy plane photos first reveal the presence of missiles 90 miles off the Florida coast, through to the most heated moments as the hawks in the administration demand air strikes -- and an invasion of Cuba while they're at it.

Director Roger Donaldson has a great command of the narrative, going out of his way to find fresh approaches for bringing trepidation to a story with an outcome that every audience member knows going in. Example: O'Donnell and Bobby Kennedy pause as they are driven past the Soviet embassy in one scene and take note of the billowing chimneys and the smell of burning documents. "They think we're going to war," Bobby realizes.

Donaldson amplifies several familiar historical moments by editing them together with scenes inside the Oval Office as the events unfold. For instance, Jack, Bobby and Kenny nervously watch on television as UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson reveals the spy photos to the world then faces down the Soviet representative, demanding "Do you have missiles in Cuba? Yes or no? Don't wait for the translation! Yes or no!"

The director also ads to the crescendo by cutting away to short, illustrative scenes of the missiles being installed, of Russian ships threatening to run the US Navy blockade and of a seat-gripping ride-along aboard an Air Force fighter that goes in low for a few more pictures and almost gets shot down -- something that most certainly would have escalated the showdown beyond the point of no return.

But "Thirteen Days" may be at its best during its private moments between O'Donnell and the Kennedys. The friendship they share is portrayed so strongly there's never a question of the film's credibility while the story plays out.

Afterwards, a few nagging reservations arise. Greenwood is a good choice to play JFK, but he's a little short on the Kennedy charisma. (Culp, on the other hand, plays Bobby with an absolutely astonishing degree of accuracy and remarkable depth.) Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy's Vice President, is conspicuously absent from all but one scene of the film (he has only a single line of dialogue). And the picture can't quite escape the feeling that it's a glorified TV movie -- albeit a really, really good TV movie.

However, there's no denying that "Thirteen Days" transports the audience not only into the era (the production design is amazing) or the location (the film's White House truly feels like a seat of power), but into the thick of the Kennedy inner circle. It faithfully portrays their spirit and the atmosphere -- if not the absolute facts -- of the most disquieting two weeks the world has ever known.



Thirteen Days

Facts and Figures

Run time: 145 mins

In Theaters: Friday 12th January 2001

Box Office USA: $33.1M

Box Office Worldwide: $34.6M

Budget: $80M

Distributed by: New Line Cinema

Production compaines: New Line Cinema, Tig Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Fresh: 98 Rotten: 20

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Kenneth O'Donnell, as John F. Kennedy, as Robert F. Kennedy, as Robert McNamara

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Colossal Movie Review

Colossal Movie Review

It's rare to find a movie that so defiantly refuses to be put into a...

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

It's unlikely that Guy Ritchie could make a boring movie if he wanted to. This...

Snatched Movie Review

Snatched Movie Review

It doesn't really matter that the script for this lively action-comedy is paper thin: teaming...

Jawbone Movie Review

Jawbone Movie Review

Boxing movies aren't usually this thoughtful. Sure, there are plenty of punchy moments in the...

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Scottish filmmaker Gillies MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky) remakes the 1949 Ealing comedy classic, although it's difficult...

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Master filmmaker Ridley Scott is back to continue the story 10 years after the events...

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

A fictionalised account of real events, this drama is reminiscent of Peter Morgan's work in...

Advertisement
Sleepless Movie Review

Sleepless Movie Review

In remaking the 2011 French thriller Sleepless Night, the filmmakers have dumbed down both the...

Unlocked Movie Review

Unlocked Movie Review

By injecting a steady sense of fun, this slick but mindless action thriller both holds...

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

A seriously impressive feature directing debut with a star-making central performance, this period British drama...

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

It was never going to be easy to match the impact of 2014's Guardians of...

The Promise Movie Review

The Promise Movie Review

The director of Hotel Rwanda, Terry George, turns to another humanitarian horror: the systematic murder...

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.