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Movie Reviews

Thirteen Days  

Kenny O’ Donnell (Kevin Costner)
John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood)
Robert Kennedy (Steven Culp)
Robert McNamara (Dylan Baker)
Dean Rusk (Henry Strozier)
Directed by Roger Donaldson Written by David Self
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and violence
Running Time: 135 minutes Distributed by New Line Cinema

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Thirteen Days is an intriguing film about the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The film captures an inside look into the White House and the scenarios that centered on the decisions of President Kennedy (Greenwood) and his defense staff. The story jumps right into where the United States captures pictures of Russian nuclear missiles that have been placed in Cuba. During this time, the United States was in protest of Russia and Cuba, because they were communist countries. Immediately, the president and his aide Kenny O’Donnell (Costner) are introduced to the situation. Kennedy calls in all of his experts and the military to discuss the possibilities of removing the missiles. Due to the Bay of Pigs incident, the military sees Kennedy as weak and that he must go in with force to remove the missiles. The president and his aides have concerns with starting World War III, but time is running low until the missiles become operational.

Thirteen Days is a powerful and very important political thriller about a situation that happened nearly forty years ago. Like another good political thriller that came out earlier this year, The Contender, this film resides on meetings looked into the White House and the emotion of the president and his decision-making. However, Thirteen Days is different than The Contender, this film touches more personally to audiences because it really happened.

Director Roger Donaldson gets the most out of his actors, except maybe one or two. He surrounds the real-life characters with an accurate replica set and props of the White House. The director does keep your eyes glued to the screen, but I was lost with some of the elements that he uses in this film. The prime example is his use of black and white throughout the film. Donaldson has no structure, sequencing or really any established point as to where he chose to film the movie in black and white. I found his use of it to be unorganized, because it would come and go with no real reason behind it. It might have worked if maybe all the scenes in Kennedy’s office where shot in black and white, or maybe the scenes with Kennedy and the military officers. Black and white filming can be used very powerfully in a director’s interpretation. One example that comes to mind is American History X, in which all of the flashbacks are in black and white. In my opinion, I thought it would have been cool to maybe shoot all of Thirteen Days in black and white. However, Donaldson does capture the story and the feeling of this part of American history, which is most important. There are some brief pieces of the film that become a little confusing, but Donaldson eventually makes the situations understandable.

David Self took upon the huge task of writing the screenplay for this film. I will say now that I was not alive during 1962, so I have no idea of what Americans went through with this scary situation. I also do not know how accurate or fictionalized Self’s story is, but for the most part it seemed accurate. He quickly introduces all the situations and many proposals of how to get the missiles out of Cuba. He takes ample time to show the relationship and trust between Kennedy, his advisor O’Donnell, and his brother Bobby. I found it clever that the story is seen through the eyes of Kennedy’s advisor O’Donnell, instead of the president. In my opinion, using O’Donnell as the centerpiece works better in telling the story. One aspect I would have liked to seen more of through the script is the emotion of the American people. The audience sees all of the pressure and emotion of all the characters involved in with the missile crisis decision-making, but hardly any of the citizens of the United States are seen. I believe some of the reasons are because of the running time of the film, which is very long, but the film has to be long to explain everything. From what I could tell, Self wrote an overall accurate and acute script about the Cuban missile crisis.

Kevin Costner does fine with his intense scenes in this film, probably some of the most intensity I have seen in his acting in years. He just ruins his performance as Kenny O’ Donnell with trying to hold a very terrible Boston accent. His accent is so fake and most of all annoying, and he loses it throughout the film. The actor should have just used his regular voice with this role; he would have been a lot better. With all the criticism of Costner being the only actor without an English accent in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the actor probably wanted to be more versatile and to prove the critics wrong. The accent just tears down his performance as the aide to Kennedy. On the other hand, Bruce Greenwood gives a dynamite performance as John F. Kennedy. Greenwood captures the magnitude and characteristics of Kennedy, even though he hardly resembles him. Steven Culp also does a good job of portraying Bobby Kennedy, who was the United States Attorney General at this time. Last but not least, Dylan Baker delivers a fiery performance as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The cast of this film works well off of each other’s emotion, anger and communication.

Thirteen Days is a movie I recommend to everyone, especially to the younger generation of filmgoers that didn’t live through or don’t even know about the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

Over the Christmas break, my mother explained to me of how scared the nation was during this time. I couldn’t imagine how it felt, but this film for the most part explains how scary it was and how close we came.

Report Card Grade: B+

Beastman’s Movie Reviews
Copyright, 2001 Joseph C. Tucker

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