Thirteen Days

Movie Review by Susannah Macklin

Starring: Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp

Director: Roger Donaldson

To some, October 1962 may be the sort of vague date that fails to prompt classic conversations of what loved ones might have been doing at that time, where they were and how they were feeling, but for nearly two weeks during that period the whole world came under the threat of nuclear war.

Viewed from a fly on the wall position in the great American corridors of power and from the point of view of the President’s Special Assistant, Kenny O’Donnell (Kevin Costner), THIRTEEN DAYS documents the unfolding events that pushed the USA terrifyingly close to a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union.

Screenwriter David Self (THE HAUNTING) and director Roger Donaldson (NO WAY OUT) have captured the frighteningly real vulnerability of man during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s a tense thriller that reflects the period with suspense played out through words rather than actions, while avoiding relying on the portrayal of a histrionic public and on obvious shock value.

Those looking for drama laden action sequences will be disappointed, but director Roger Donaldson pulls out all the stops where necessary. There are some superb aerial scenes and fans of edge-of-the-seat tension will be more than happy with shots of a fighter pilot desperately dodging missiles in an attempt to keep his word to O’Donnell and avoid more conflict with the Soviets through ‘being shot down’. Equally a scene in which O’Donnell comes to realise that in the event of nuclear attack he will be immediately removed to safety with the President, while having to tell his wife and children to take cover in the morale boosting 30 minutes or so they believe they have (in reality a nuclear missile would make it to the states in 5), hits hard.

THIRTEEN DAYS drags a little toward the end but still manages to avoid the over indulgence that is so common in this sort of political thriller. Drawn out discussions in the White House and other political arenas are punctuated by enough drama to save it from tipping over into the boredom category.

Although heavily showcasing a top form Kevin Costner in his bounce back performance as Kenny O’Donnell, the prize can’t be taken away from Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp who eerily recreate history as the charismatic Kennedy brothers.

If you’re after a film that shamelessly plays on the fears of the masses, focusing on the hysteria and terror that surrounds nuclear war – then you will be disappointed. But, if you want to see how delicate our mortality is in the hands of world powers, and just how human those that we choose to deify in the hope they might get us out of unthinkable situations really are, then THIRTEEN DAYS is a must see.

4 out of 6 stars

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