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withdrawn type whose real genius was to pick the best advice from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
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
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
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