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Thirteen Days

June 9, 2013

Thirteen Days (2000)
Director: Roger Donaldson
Actors: Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp

13 Days

Synopsis: The Cuban Missile Crisis – as played out from within the Kennedy administration.

Review: It’s only ten years old, and yet, this mainstream recreation of the Cuban Missile Crisis feels awfully dated. It really is a product of the time before independent-spirited cinema could spring out organically from within the industrial cogs of Hollywood. Instead, the evidently serious canvas of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the inner workings of the Kennedy administration get somewhat sullied by the cheesy grammar redolent of larger Hollywood productions: an awfully bombastic musical score and some weird and superficial shifts to black and white – presumably to remind the lesser minds in the audience that this was a moment of actual history.

It really is the Cuban Missile Crisis played out on a grand scale though, and, in some respects, this grandiosity is permissible. This was, after all, one of the key moments of the Cold War, and perhaps the closest the planet has yet come to nuclear conflict. That very fact is ogled on portentously when director Roger Donaldson opens the film with the apocalyptic sight of a huge nuclear mushroom cloud, and any moment where military engagement comes close to occurring (the ships and subs navigating the blockade, and the spy planes flying over Cuba) receive as much dramatic focus as the political machinations in Washington. Those machinations are probably the strong point of the film. Admittedly, the diplomatic route is sketched in broadly – it’s all military hawks versus the Kennedy boys, and Kevin Costner’s private secretary is a convenient device to act as our conduit to the Kennedys’ inner-circle – but it’s certainly a well-acted film. The decision to cast the relatively unknown Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp as JFK and RFK makes particular sense. Big names would shift audience attention from the taut narrative to the distractions of fawning at famous actors impersonating hugely renowned historical figures. Instead we’re able to immerse ourselves in the dramatic universe in front of us. (June 2013)

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