Thirteen Days


Directed by: Roger Donaldson
Written by:David Self
Starring: Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp, Dylan Baker, Henry Strozier
Released: May 3, 2001
Grade: A

Ask yourself this question - how long do you think it will be until life on Earth ceases?  I believe I’ll be witness to our own destruction and no, I’m not on drugs or over-caffeinated.  The more intelligent we become, the closer we are to the end.  World Wars I and II were fought with heavy artillery but with the advent of nuclear technology, countries now have the power to obliterate millions of lives with a single command should a world war be fought again.

The President of the United States is the world’s most powerful person and is one of few that could issue that command.  Think about power in general and the effect it has on people.  Everybody wants it and yet some people change and cannot cope when even the slightest pressure is placed on them.  If the world were to go to war today, George W. Bush could control the lives of four billion people and just imagine the pressure that would be placed on any decision he made.

Crimson Tide provided a worthy illustration of power, pressure and nuclear weapons.  It was fictitious of course and one would hope that the situation depicted could and would never eventuate.  Thirteen Days cannot be classed similarly because it is a true story and the key factor that makes it so entrancing to watch.

In October 1962, U.S. spy planes discovered missiles being assembled in Cuba that had been obtained from the Russians.  Cuba believed the U.S. was planning to attack.  Joining forces with Russia, they intended using the weapons to defend themselves.  The U.S. interpreted things differently.  They never had intention to invade Cuba and saw the development of weapons as a threat to their own security.

Over the next 13 days, the world was brought to a standstill and braced for World War III.  President John F. Kennedy (Greenwood) and his adviser Kenny O’Donnell (Costner) were left to make the biggest decision of their lives.  Military leaders advised the president to strike Cuba before assembly was completed but Kennedy was reluctant given that many lives would be lost and the world would see America as breaching international treaties.

I could write a book on how detailed the crisis was but someone has beaten me to it.  The film is based on a novel by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow which was compiled from eyewitness testimony and White House audio tapes.   At just over two hours, Thirteen Days captures only a brief glimpse of the conflict but still develops incredible tension.  The film is unrelenting and keeps building until the history making conclusion.

Kevin Costner gives his best performance since JFK which is ironic - perhaps Costner prefers political material.  As Kennedy himself, Bruce Greenwood is remarkable.  He plays a subdued character who is rarely upset but on the cusp of losing control.  I’m so familiar with Greenwood playing the “bad guy” (as in Rules of Engagement, Double Jeopardy and The Sweet Hereafter) but here he portrays one of the most important people of the 20th Century and rises to a challenge that would be beyond other actors.

I’m a fan of political dramas if just to see the effect that power and pressure have on one’s judgment.  Bulworth, Primary Colours and The Contender are all A-worthy in my opinion and Thirteen Days continues the impressive trend.  We don’t often see what goes on behind closed doors and are accustomed to the usual clichés and statements politicians tout.  This film will shock you but I wonder just how many equally compelling stories are kept within the walls of the White House and the Pentagon?  If we only knew...