108 of 113 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2001
I saw this film in the theaters and was very disappointed that it was not a major hit; although I think I know why. This is definitely a character and dialogue-driven historical drama. Not your run-of-the-mill mind-blowing blockbuster type of film! I believe this film will play very nicely in DVD or video form where it's quiet drama will play itself better.
I was VERY disappointed that Bruce Greenwood was not nominated for an academy award (there were rumors this may happen) because I believe his performance was as good if not better than the men that were nominated. His JFK was, in my humble opinion, perfect. I found this film compelling, well written, and dramatic. I especially enjoyed the scenes where Kenny O'Donnell (K. Costner) went to church and went to see his son play ball. Can you just imagine what you would feel if you thought the end of the world may happen?
As I watched this movie, I thought it was a shame that the movie-going generation of today did not take the time to watch it. To them, this is history of long ago; to many others, it is a lesson worth watching and remembering.
This is also, quite frankly, a wonderful and entertaining piece of cinema. Give it the chance it deserves.
45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2001
Throughout the Twentieth Century, misjudgment-- the failure of one side to extrapolate the position of the other side-- has resulted in every major war from WWI to the Korean conflict. And no one was more aware of this than President John F. Kennedy, when in October of 1962, photographs taken by an American U-2 spy plane uncovered the existence of Russian surface-to-surface missiles being deployed in Cuba; missiles with a range that encompassed every major city in the U.S., with the exception of Seattle. "Thirteen Days," directed by Roger Donaldson, is a chronicle of two of the most intense, significant weeks in the history of America, as well as U.S./Soviet relations. Thirteen days that came down to a twelve to twenty-four hour period that could have changed the world as we know it today.
Working from an intelligent, well-researched and accurate screenplay by David Self, Donaldson takes you behind the closed doors of the White House and conference rooms in which the fate of the nation was ultimately decided. The outcome is, of course, a matter of history, but the process which led to the final conclusion is intense, riveting drama that in the end illuminates just how close the world was brought to the brink of nuclear war by the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Much of the tension in the film is derived and enhanced by the fact that it only gives the perspective of the Americans; but rather than making it a stilted, biased account, however, it becomes an objective, thoroughly engrossing presentation, and the fact that the viewer knows only what Kennedy knew puts you in the room with him, so to speak, and allows you to experience the process of assimilating the information, of extrapolating with Kennedy and ultimately making one of the most monumental decisions in history.
The story unfolds through the eyes of Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner), special advisor to the President, long time friend of the family and a trusted member of the Kennedy inner-circle. The film accurately establishes O'Donnell's position without embellishing his role simply for dramatic effect; he serves as something of a "tour guide," through whom you gain access to the drama playing out behind the curtain. That he is a close friend of the Kennedys is reflected in many scenes in which O'Donnell, Jack and Bobby are alone together. And since the story is told from O'Donnell's point-of-view, naturally his is a significant role; the film very subtly goes to great lengths, however, to establish the fact that within the conference rooms or during the meetings in the Oval Office, O'Donnell is kept at arm's length and, though present, is not a direct participant.
Costner gives what is arguably one of the best performances of his career in this film, successfully capturing the essence of O'Donnell in an understated, subtle way that works extremely well and serves the story effectively. He's clearly the star of the picture, though much of what he does is on the sidelines, which keeps the focus on Kennedy and the magnitude of the situation at hand. Costner has drawn criticism in some quarters with regards to the distinctive New England accent he affects in the film, but the criticism is unwarranted; you have only to hear a tape of the real O'Donnell to realize how accurate Costner's portrayal is, up to and including the accent.
Donaldson and the producers of this film realized that for it to really have an impact, the roles of JFK and RFK, especially, had to be cast with great care; for the film to be believable and to maintain that focus on the story, the Kennedys had to be believable, otherwise the effect would be significant to the point of distraction. And their meticulous efforts and hard work paid off. Bruce Greenwood gives an excellent performance as John Kennedy, from the accent to the body language and mannerisms he affects that so defined him. And Steven Culp is perfect as Bobby, imbuing his performance with nuance and an eye for detail that convincingly brings him to life.
The outstanding supporting cast includes Dylan Baker (McNamara), Henry Strozier (Rusk), Frank Wood (Bundy), Len Cariou (Acheson), Bill Smitrovich (General Taylor), Kevin Conway (General LeMay) and Kelly Connell (Salinger). During the strife of the Civil War, the nation was preserved because the right man, Abraham Lincoln, was in the right place at the right time; and in retrospect, the same can be said of John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis. As Kennedy said, if we fail to comprehend the Soviets, and they don't understand us, the result will be tragic; and though the controversy of politics is inescapable, and there will always be two sides with opposing views, this film succinctly demonstrates that in this instance, it all came down to the decision of one man who proved he had the vision and the determination to do the right thing. And anyone who disputes it need only be reminded that, in fact, that is the Sun you see shining through your own window every morning.
79 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2001
I remember studying the Cuban Missile Crisis in college, in a class on group dynamics and groupthink. It is such a remarkably involving event, I was a bit apprehensive going into the film, as Hollywood often manages to suck the life out of inherently thrilling stories. Luckily, they get this one right. While it is not historically accurate, I didn't care, because the story this film tells preserves the essence of the event, the tension in the White House as two superpowers danced at the edge of World War III, and the type of individual heroism and leadership it probably took to save us from ourselves.
The story is told from the perspective of Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner), given an inflated role as the advisor to President Kennedy and confidant of both John and Bobby. Telling the story from his perspective is a good one, as it allows us to view John and Bobby as the larger than life heroes they were. Costner's faux Bostonian accent is so lousy as to cause hysterical laughter from my friends and I as the film started, but thankfully Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp outshine him with remarkably charismatic portrayals of John and Bobby. I wasn't alive when Kennedy was president, but after watching Greenwood's performance I can understand why so many look to Kennedy as our last great president. Surrounded by military chiefs of staff rabid to go to war with the Russians, the Kennedy's and O'Donnell find the courage to follow their better judgment and inspire enough decent men around them to steer both sides to a peaceful resolution. This is filmmaking about the clash of strong personalities in a group setting, like Twelve Angry Men, or Glengarry Glen Ross, or Fail Safe. I find the subject fascinating.
A few other minor quibbles: occasionally the film switches to black and white, ostensibly to heighten the sense of historical accuracy, but it just looked like we were watching a studio screener copy of the film to me. That could have been left out. Also, occasionally the director Roger Donaldson inserts scenes with O'Donnell hanging out with his family, brooding over their well-being, with head in hand and furrowed brow. They feel like attempts to conjure up some of the tension that common American families felt during the event, but Costner no longer has the dramatic presence to pull them off, and I would have preferred Donaldson narrow his focus to stay within the confines of the White House.
But those are minor quibbles. Dylan Baker plays Defense Secretary Robert McNamara wonderfully, and it's amazing how much Culp and Baker resemble Bobby Kennedy and McNamara. I left the film wishing that presidential candidates like George Bush or Al Gore had half the charisma of Greenwood's JFK. Ah, but isn't that always the case with presidents in the movies? If you find yourself fascinated by the Cuban Missile Crisis after watching the film, pick up the book from which some of the film's events were pulled, "The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis." It provides a more historically accurate and just as compelling examination of the event.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2001
Hopefully, this movie will recieve more exposure on home video than it did theatrically. The manner in which the public ignored this movie has given me serious doubts about films of the future. I mean. Pearl Harbor will probably be insultingly inaccurate about history and prove to be one of the biggest films of all time. Thirteen Days on the other hand played it as straight as a hollywood movie could and just tanked. Thirteen Days has flaws. The history favors the Kennedys a bit much. The movie uses some bizarre stylistic choices. But one thing the film does that most political thrillers fail at is to show how complicated, intense and most of all important the art of negotiation is. Sure the film portrays the military brass as being war mongers. But damn by the end of the film if I didn't feel like my life could be drastically different now(I was born in 69) if the war mongers had won in the cabinet meetings. Very powerful stuff. Dr Strangelove with it's dark edged satire might have been more effective in scaring me about the horrors of nuclear war. Fail Safe might have done a better job of showing how close we came to oblivion. But Thirteen Days gave me the optimism in knowing that from now on when war is always an option, the art of negotiation is ultimately a more powerful tool.
One more thing. Michael Delucca was an executive producer of this movie. Delucca always takes chances. Maybe that is why some of my favorite contemporary films(Seven, Magnolia, Dark City) have been produced by him. He was let go from New Line. Whoever hires this guy will end up releasing great films.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2003
My favorite film!
This fascinating political suspense flick serves as a tribute to the fine work that President Kennedy and his advisors did, amidst military pressures for war, during the thirteen days of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Now, I wasn't around in '62, but it seems quite accurate from my point of view. In fact, the biggest 'mess-up' I could pick out was a quick glimpse of a C-130 Hercules (cargo plane) taxiing, wearing the current USAF paint scheme and not the 1960's SEA (Southeast Asia) camouflage or old Military Airlift Command colors! The computer-generated aircraft scenes did a little to detract from the realism, but there are no RF-8s, U-2Cs, or F-101s still flying, so at least the producers took the time to make the aircraft accurate. I did like the Vietnam-era carrier footage and the aircraft scrambles, however! Those were the real thing! By the way, if you haven't noticed, I'm quite the aviation nut. The cast line-up was pretty impressive: Kevin Costner as special assistant to the president Kenny O'Donnell, Bruce Greenwood as JFK, Steven Culp (best known for his role as Clayton Webb on "J.A.G.") as Bobby Kennedy, Bill Smitrovich as Gen. Maxwell Taylor, Elya Baskin as Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin, and a selection of other fine actors. This is probably the most underrated film I know of, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the Cuban missile crisis or who enjoys political dramas.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2001
"Thirteen Days" is an intelligent and thrilling gem of a movie with relentless edge-of-your-seat suspense. Based on the events that took place in October of 1962 surrounding the Cuban missile crisis, they used actual transcripts and historical records in creating this well-written script. Expertly directed by Roger Donaldson, this film contains some top-notch performances from Bruce Greenwood as JFK, Steven Culp as RFK, and Kevin Costner as Kenny O'Donnell. The DVD version is amazing, with layers and layers of extras that provide fascinating historical background and perspective on the crisis itself and how a devastating nuclear war was avoided. It demonstrates the kind of information and detail that every DVD could and should offer, and is a must-have for any DVD collection. This is film-making at its very best. If you missed it in the theater, don't let it pass you by again.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2001
Recently my teenage son asked me if the horror of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks was the most significant event of my lifetime. Of course, the answer is "yes," overshadowing such monumental events as JFK's assasination, the space shuttle explosion, Armstrong setting foot on the moon and the crisis depicted in this movie ... the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nontheless, the Missile crisis was a monumentally significant event and this movie captures the tension that I remember so well.
Some reviewers have critcized Kevin Costner's characterization of Kenny O'Donnell, noting that the movie assigns him a greater role than O'Donnell actually played and also noting that Costner's "Havad" accent was overplayed. This is a minor concern, however, since docudramas often need a protagonist from whose eyes we view unfolding drama. Costner helps provide those eyes, for us, the viewers.
What is striking about this film is that it captures the tension felt in October 1962. I remember that there was indeed a concern that we might go to war; that the unthinkable might happen ... a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union. In this movie, the tension is captured from the point of view of President Kennedy, his brother Bobby, the military leaders, and others in the seat of power. It starts with a report of a possible missile buildup in Cuba and the tension mounts as these reports crystalize into a confirmed fact. The Kennedy administration used both the carrot and the stick in negotiations as they were willing to make a few concessions to the Soviet Union while standing firm as to the consequences if the Soviet Union did not remove her missiles from the Carribean Island just 90 miles from our shores.
The movie tends to lionize JFK and his brother Bobby. They were certainly less than perfect human beings but, their conduct during this crisis may have well been their finest hours. Accordingly, the glowing portrayal of them in this movie is justified. Also, I was not aware, until seeing this movie, that Adlai Stevenson was sought for advice but that ultimately, Stevenson could not be relied on, that JFK had to stand and make his own decisions. Of course, Stevenson did stand tall in his conduct on the floor of the United Nations (to the delight of a jubilant Kennedy Admisistration which had it's doubts) but the new generation of leadership, not Stevenson, had the forsight and resolve to get us through the perilous times.
I remember well that as a nation, we put our trust in JFK to get us through the crisis and avert a launching of a nuclear attack by or against us. I was only 11 at the time but, I remember that despite the fears and rumors that we were at the brink of war, there was a confidence that things would work out despite Kennedy's earlier failure at the Bay of Pigs. This movie shows we were indeed at the brink of war and that there was indeed much pressure by military leaders and others in the administration for us to launch a first strike. In the end, the nation's trust that JFK would get us through the crisis was well placed.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2002
This is an excellent and unfairly overlooked movie that should have at least generated Oscar nominations, if not Oscars, twelve months ago. Unfairly criticised for fictionally enhancing the White House role of presidential aide Kenneth O'Donnell and taking liberties with the facts, this is the kind of Costner bashing that its star and co-producer must be pretty familiar with by now.
Centring around the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, this is an excellent movie that gives many of us too young to remember an insight into the terrifying events that all so nearly led to WWIII and mutually assured nuclear destruction by the superpowers, of the world as we know it. Criticised for exaggerating the role of white house aid Kenny O'Donnell, you have to question whether or not their would have been the same fuss if it were not for the fact that the aforementioned white house aid was played by Kevin Costner. It always bemuses and frustrates me that the critics are very selective in their criticisms of movies and their historical inaccuracies. How come movies such as the cringeworthy Titanic and Braveheart can take such enormous liberties with the truth and win so many Oscars without barely a whisper of criticism and yet Denzel Washington can be deprived of an Oscar for 'Hurricane' because of an unsubstantiated whispering campaign about its historical accuracy? Wouldn't it be much preferable if we lived in a world without such petty jealousies and vendettas, where credit was given where credit was due? In Thirteen Days the character of Kenny O'Donnell is central to the telling of the story and that aside, the depiction of the historical events are beyond reproach.
Director Roger Donaldson should be congratulated (and should have been Oscar nominated) for successfully serving up a genuine edge of your seat historical political pot-boiler of a movie. Even though I know that we didn't go to war in 1962 and that it was all resolved amicably in the end (well, nearly), I was still riveted and anxious throughout the whole movie. I almost had my fingers crossed, praying that everything worked out, even though I knew it did. Now that's great film-making and quite an achievement to exact that effect. Kudos also for Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp for their understated performances as JFK and Bobby and for Kevin Costner for avoiding the showy role (of JFK) and returning to form. Costner also deserves praise just for bringing this personal project of a movie and history lesson to our screens, as does David Self for the excellent screenplay. Thirteen Days is the type of thought-provoking and intense movie we could with seeing Hollywood make more often.
What is more, if you buy the Infinifilm edition, you can enjoy watching it again and again and (with infinifilm enabled) in the process learn more about the historically crucial thirteen days in October 1962 when the world stood still. Partly because of its historical significance but mainly because its an excellent and very intelligent movie, Thirteen Days is a must see!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Sometimes Kevin Costner just can't be told. On Tin Cup he couldn't be told that a scene of him beating a security guard to a bloody pulp because he forgot his ID card wasn't going to endear him to the audience in a romcom (I never saw the finished film, but I believe the preview audiences succeeded in getting that scene cut). In The Postman he couldn't be told that ending a film with a statue of him being unveiled was really not a good idea. At all. And in Thirteen Days he couldn't be told that adopting a Boston accent was not a good idea when it makes him sound just like Elmer Fudd. For the first quarter of an hour you're just waiting for him to say "Be wewwy, wewwy qwuiet. I'm hunting Wussian Miss-eyells." So it's a testament to the strength of the film that it survives that hurdle and emerges as a gripping thriller even though we all know the ending.
Although Costner gets top billing, the film really belongs to Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp as JFK and Bobby Kennedy, avoiding impersonation (and the accent) to give quite superb performances. While the film is occasionally guilty of overglamorizing the dynamic duo, it's surprising to see just how little control they were able to exercise over the Chiefs of Staff who seemed hell-bent on escalating the Cuban Missile Crisis into a full-scale invasion. Considering the final result, it seems particularly timely now to see a drama about a president desperate to avoid a pointless war over weapons of mass destruction that he knows do exist: for all the corruption, spin and dilettantism of the Kennedy administration, this was one of those fortuitous examples of the right leader at the right time.
The film certainly manages to pull off the rare achievement of instilling a real sense of pride not in action but in diplomacy, with most of the drama taking place in conference rooms (although there are a couple of genuinely exciting pieces of filmmaking in the spy flights over Cuba). Indeed, perhaps the most genuinely stirring moment is Adlai Stevenson calling the Russian ambassador's bluff at the UN, the sort of thing which doesn't exactly pull in the kids at the multiplex. This doesn't always pay dividends, however. The biggest problem is that it loses tension by being so confined to the political and military players: there's no sense of the very real fear that spread throughout the world that this really was IT and that the mushroom clouds would start sprouting any minute. As a result the movie does begin to lose its grip towards the end, and doesn't entirely dodge mawkishness. The sporadic early shifts from color to black and white are a real failure, too. With the archive footage in color, there simply seems no reason for them, and they seem to have been thrown in arbitrarily purely to give it an imagined cutting edge. Still, they're fairly minor flaws in an impressive thriller.
The extras on the disc are very impressive too, particularly the 50-minute historical documentary and the video portraits of the real key players.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2007
A film that takes place during what has become known as "the Cuban Missile Crisis", an event which is not only a harrowing chapter for the United States, but potentially for human civilization as well. This important historical period is a interesting and fascinating subject, centered around then-President John F. Kennedy's handling of the extremely tense situation whereby the Soviet Union was shipping and basing medium-range missiles capable of reaching the continental United States from the proxy regime of Cuba.
Although this is excellent subject matter for a movie, unfortunately it is just a backdrop for the film THIRTEEN DAYS, which focuses on Kenny O'Connell (Kevin Costner), a friend and political advisor to JFK. In spite of the gravity of the Crisis, the film spends too much time centered around someone not deserving of being the subject of the film. O'Connell's character is not as interesting as the events unfolding around him, and not really compelling enough to warrant the attention, which would have been better spent on JFK and the confrontation and the Soviet perspective. Further, Costner's attempt at a genuine Yankee (Massachusetts) accent is obvious and labored and ultimately unconvincing. The whole thing comes off as a hint of a vanity project for Costner.
Among the film's strengths includes Bruce Greenwood doing arguably the best portrayal of JFK to date depicted on film or TV. The actor (Steven Culp) playing Bobby Kennedy was also a good pick and did a fine job in his limited role, and Dylan Baker gave an interesting performance as SecDef Robert McNamara.
The best parts of the film were the two marvelous aerial scenes: the first featuring the 2-ship formation of RF-8 aircraft doing their high-speed, low-level recon of the Cuban missile sites; the second featuring the dramatization of Maj. Rudolph Anderson's fateful mission. This was a compelling and tense sequence which completely draws the viewer in, even though the heartbreaking outcome was already known ahead of time.
All in all, it was a decent film which could have been better if it concentrated on where the more compelling interest, characters, and actions were.