Thirteen Days

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Thirteen Days


Thirteen Days (2000)
Directed by Robert Donaldson

"Good evening my fellow citizens…This Government, as promised, has maintained the
closest surveillance of the Soviet Military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past
week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile
sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be
none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere."
These are the exact words spoken by John F. Kennedy in his address to the nation on
October 22, 1962. The president had finally told the American people what was happening
with the crisis in Cuba and what that government was determined to do about it. Bruce
Greenwood, the actor who started as JFK in "Thirteen Days", could not have been better in
delivering this speech. It was as if you were witnessing that day in 1962. The entire film
was brilliant written by David Self, working tirelessly with primary sources from Ernest
May and Phillip Zelikow's book The Kennedy Tapes - Inside the White House During the Cuban
Missile Crisis. While it seems at times that Self forces Kevin Costner's character, Ken
O'Donnell, onto the audience, the entire film flows very well, a near-perfect recreation
of the dramatic thirteen days.

The entire crisis began following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, following which some
called for President Kennedy's resignation. When Castro appealed to the USSR for kelp,
Khrushchev delivered missiles with the capability of launching a nuclear strike against
the US. Thinking that Kennedy would take no action, Khrushchev began helping Cuba with the
missile supply. These buildups were caught on film by the U2 spy planes flying
reconnaissance missions over the area. When the photos were shown to the President the
crisis began. While the background of the crisis is not black and white, it is referred to
during the film using simple remarks, but used by Self to help the audience understand
what exactly was taking place.

The film takes the audience through the entire thirteen days of the crisis, moving in and
out of different meetings and conferences. The plot is very true to reality as so are many
of the character. Both Greenwood and Stephen Culp, the actor who played Robert Kennedy,
studied their characters' voices and defining characteristics very closely, at times
almost resembling the two brothers. Most of the dialogue that took place during the EXCOM
and other meetings is taken more or less word for word from the documents. The story was
so intriguing in real life that not much needed to be changed.

There are many interesting scenes during the film that had many exact words from documents
released after the fact. One amazing scene takes place in the oval office where the
president is still contemplating an air strike and prepares to address congress regarding
his actions. While this scene is very short in the film, the director did a great job of
picking certain important parts of the speeches. In reality, most of the meeting deals
with different men nitpicking parts of the speeches, something an audience would not love
to see, but Donaldson chose some poignant lines General Lemay states that the air strike
would be able to destroy 90% of the missiles in Cuba, but the President shrugs it off and
goes ahead with his original decision. The director emphasizes JFK's determination to stay
with his own original plan, something that allowed him to lead the country trough this
troubled time.

I would like to discuss one interpretation that Donaldson used in the film, dealing with
Costner's character. I wish that Donaldson would have downplayed Kevin Costner's character
because he tries to steal the show, when in reality his character was not that influential
in Kennedy's decision making. There a few times when he takes control of the movie in
places that are better left with him in the background. For example, in one scene when
President Kennedy is preparing to give his address to the nation, Costner's character
takes the stage and leads JFK into a private room to give him a sort of pep talk. It was
interesting how the director decided to let the president's assistant try to calm down the
president, instead of giving Greenwood the floor with a monologue or something. One
historical thing that was inaccurate or at least exaggerated was O'Donnell's influence
over the president. In David Brinkley's book, The Kennedy Circle, he mentions that indeed
O'Donnell was a part of the Kennedy circle, even playing football with Bobby at Harvard.
However, in the movie where he is often shown with just the brothers, as if they were the
"big three" making executive decisions for the country. This was completely exaggerated by
the filmmakers because O'Donnell was just a sidekick of the President, helping him with
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