Thirteen Days is a historical political thriller about the Kennedy administration at the height of the Cold War, namely the Cuban Missile Crises which occurred in 1962. I have a penchant for political dramas given my educational background and how my father was always enthused by the topic and attending town-hall meetings and seeing movies like All The President’s Men. Much of the dialogue from the movie is taken directly from Kennedy’s tapes, but there is also a lot of liberty taken with O’Donnell (Kevin Costner) as protagonist to escalate the drama, as you would expect.
Overall, I think Thirteen Days is a really solid historical re-telling of the events of those days. What I found so convincing apart from the production design of the White House interiors, military depictions (The 1960s’ vintage F-8s shown in the film are all real aircraft that were used by the Philippine Air Force) and costumes, were the portrayals of the brothers JFK and Robert by actors Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp respectively. The movie is based on the 1997 book, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow. The movie was a box office bomb grossing $66.6 million against its $80 million budget.
IMDB Storyline: In October, 1962, U-2 surveillance photos reveal that the Soviet Union is in the process of placing nuclear weapons in Cuba. These weapons have the capability of wiping out most of the Eastern and Southern United States in minutes if they become operational. President John F. Kennedy and his advisors must come up with a plan of action against the Soviets. Kennedy is determined to show that he is strong enough to stand up to the threat, and the Pentagon advises U.S. military strikes against Cuba–which could lead the way to another U.S. invasion of the island. However, Kennedy is reluctant to follow through, because a U.S. invasion could cause the Soviets to retaliate in Europe. A nuclear showdown appears to be almost inevitable. Can it be prevented?
According to Wikipedia, former Kennedy Administration Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara criticized the film for the depiction of Special Assistant Kenneth O’Donnell as chief motivator of Kennedy and others during the crisis, but ultimately said the following about Thirteen Days:
‘I think it’s an absolutely fascinating portrayal and a very constructive and responsible portrayal of a very, very serious crisis not only in the history of this nation but in the history of the world‘.
Interestingly, Costner traveled to Cuba in 2001 to screen the film for Fidel Castro, saying at a press conference, “It was an experience of a lifetime to sit only a few feet away from him and watch him relive an experience he lived as a very young man“.
I find Thirteen Days a very re-watchable movie as I do most taut political-dramas. In a sense it’s a stage play done with so much intensity that you feel right there in the room. There are flashes of newsreels, CGI, and other footage to fill out the movie with the outside world. The Australian born director Roger Donaldson also directed Dante’s Peak and No Way Out, the latter once again with Costner in the lead. Costner’s attempt at a Boston accent in Thirteen Days has become notorious in Boston with a “Kevin Costner accent” meaning a non-Bostonian’s unsuccessful attempt at a Boston accent.