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Thirteen Days

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Thirteen Days

Starring: Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood
Director: Roger Donaldson
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 138 Minutes
Release Date: January 2001
Genres: Drama, Suspense

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Edward Johnson-Ott read the review ---
3.  Harvey Karten read the review ---

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

During the Cuban missile crisis, John F. Kennedy faced a real-life Armageddon as the world came as close as it ever has to global nuclear war. THIRTEEN DAYS, starring and produced by Kevin Costner, depicts this famous period. As a history lesson, it is absolutely engrossing, but, as a movie, it falls short of what it should have been able to achieve. Although the film is well worth seeing and clearly gets a hit, with this material it should have gotten a home run.

Directed by Roger Donaldson, whose dubious credentials include his most recent films, DANTE'S PEAK and SPECIES, and scripted by David Self, whose only credit is the laughably bad THE HAUNTING, THIRTEEN DAYS is perhaps as good as could be expected.

With a gratingly exaggerated accent, Costner, playing Kennedy's special assistant and personal friend, Kenny O'Donnell, manages to upstage his boss in most of their scenes. Bruce Greenwood plays John Kennedy as a brooding, withdrawn type whose real genius was to pick the best advice from conflicting advisors. Greenwood's bland performance is emblematic of what is wrong with the movie, namely that it gets itself bogged down in long, slowly paced interior scenes in which the strategy is planned. But when the movie cuts back and forth between the politics on the ground and the excitement of the ships at sea and the planes in the air, the film really comes alive.

The story happens in October of 1962. In the midst of the mid-term election in the United States, a U2 spy plane, high over Cuba, takes a picture of Russian missiles, not yet armed, being put into place. Pointed at the United States, these missiles could reach almost as far as Seattle and could kill most American citizens within minutes. This would give the Russians a first-strike capability and forever upset the world's balance of power.

We had to force the Russians to back down, but how? Gen. Maxwell Taylor (Bill Smitrovich), Gen. Curtis LeMay (Kevin Conway) and the rest of the military brass counsel the president to strike before the missiles are operational and be prepared to wage nuclear war when, and if, the Russians retaliate. LeMay, for one, figures that the Russians will not strike back because they will be afraid of starting a nuclear holocaust.

Kenny O'Donnell and Robert Kennedy (Steven Culp), on the other hand, believe that a more peaceful solution must exist. With much difficulty, Robert Kennedy forces the Pentagon to reveal the blockade strategy which they had been holding back. This is the approach that the president, after much agonizing, finally adopts. It is only partially successful. As we now know, the blockade, combined with some skillful negotiation and some fortuitous incidents, eventually caused the Russians to dismantle their missiles.

Trevor Jones's music for the picture is the old-fashioned melodramatic type. The big black limos used by the government officials are mainly 1959 Cadillacs, probably because they featured the biggest and most ridiculous tailfins ever. But the acting is generally too reserved. When the director allows emotions to come to the surface, the movie has the impact that it should. After all, these guys were debating nuclear war, not some military procurement bill. After his Bay of Pigs fiasco, one can reasonably expect President Kennedy to have gotten quite emotionally involved in his Cuban missile crisis.

THIRTEEN DAYS is definitely a movie with an explicit message. The military boys with their toys cannot be trusted. The politicians, on both sides, are the self-proclaimed "good men," who are ready and willing to save us from the military's proclivity to go to war. Besides the fantastic history lesson, the movie leaves us to ponder the veracity of its anti-military message and to wonder how much revisionist history is taking place.

THIRTEEN DAYS runs a long 2:25. It is rated PG-13 for brief strong language and would be acceptable for any kid old enough to be interested in this period in history.

Copyright 2001 Steve Rhodes

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