Monday, January 8, 2007

Thirteen Days

Source Material: Thirteen Days by Robert F. Kennedy and The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow

Director: Roger Donaldson

Screenplay by: David Self

Year: 2000

Cast Highlights:
Kevin Costner: Kenny O'Donnell
Lucinda Jenney: Helen O'Donnell
Caitlin Wachs: Kathy O'Donnell
Bruce Greenwood: John F. Kennedy
Frank Wood: McGeorge Bundy
Steven Culp: Robert F. Kennedy
Dylan Baker: Robert McNamara
Bill Smitrovich: Gen. Maxwell Taylor
Henry Strozier: Dean Rusk
Michael Fairman: Adlai Stevenson
Tim Kelleher: Ted Sorensen
Len Cariou: Dean Acheson
Peter White: John McCone
Kevin Conway: General Curtis LeMay
Elya Baskin: Anotoly Dobrynin

Thirteen Days covers the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In actuality, it is more of a historical film than a biopic, as its focus is quite narrow. However, I decided that it deserved particular consideration, as it is probably the most accurate cinematic rendering of the Kennedys. While Bruce Greenwood doesn't look exactly like Jack Kennedy, he beautifully captures the body language, cadence, and personality of the president. The same goes for Stephen Culp as Bobby Kennedy. For that matter, all of the supporting actors turn in credible performances, particularly Dylan Baker as Robert McNamara, Michael Fairman as Adlai Stevenson, and Len Cariou as Dean Acheson. Effectively, these three become external representations of the distinct perspectives on the Cuban Missile Crisis, demonstrating the dangers, both political and physical, that the missile crisis represented.

Actually, if there is any criticism to be made of the movie, it lies in the central role given to Kenny O'Donnell. In real life, O'Donnell was not a member of Kennedy's most trusted circle. Apparently, O'Donnell's real-life son, Kevin, contributed generously to the production; in return, he demanded that his father be given a central role. Added to this inaccuracy is the fact that Kevin Costner, with his flat, midwestern tones, often seems adrift when attempting to imitate a Massachusetts accent. He overexaggerates, turning in a Kennedy impersonation that seems more suited to The Simpson's Mayor "Diamond Joe" Quimby than to an serious consideration of Kennedy's presidency. Finally, Costner doesn't look anything like the real O'Donnell.

In spite of this, however, Thirteen Days is a tautly-written, beautifully filmed movie. The cinematography is gorgeous, seamlessly integrating stock footage and black and white film to evoke the nostalgia so strongly connected to the Kennedys. It is a definitive historical movie, and sets a standard for the genre.

Memorable Quotes

Kenny O'Donnell: If the sun comes up tomorrow, it is only because of men of good will. That is all there is between us and the devil.

Dobrynin: [to RFK] You're a good man; your brother is a good man. I assure you there are other good men. Let us hope the will of good men is enough to counter the terrible strength of this thing that was put in motion.

Dean Acheson: Gentlemen, for the last fifteen years, I've fought at this table alongside your predecessors in the struggle against the Soviet. Now I do not wish to seem melodramatic, but I do wish to impress upon you a lesson I learned with bitter tears and great sacrifice. The Soviet understands only one language: action. Respects only one word: force.

Kenny O'Donnell: The point is, you trade our missiles in Turkey for theirs in Cuba, they're gonna force us into trade after trade, until finally, a couple of months from now they demand something we won't trade, like Berlin, and we do end up in a war. Not to mention that long before that happens this administration will be politically dead.
Robert Kennedy: I don't care if this administration ends up in the freaking toilet! We don't do a deal tonight there won't be any administration.

Adlai Stevenson: [to Ambassador Zorin] All right, sir, let me ask you one simple question. Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR has placed and is placing medium and intermediate-range missiles in sites in Cuba? Yes or no? Don't wait for the translation! Yes or no?
Ambassador Zorin: I am not in the American courtroom, and I do not wish to respond to questions that a prosecutor would put to the defendant. You will get all the answers to your questions as this session progresses.
Adlai Stevenson: You are in the courtroom of world opinion right now, and you can answer yes or no. You have denied that they exist and I want to know if I have understood you correctly.
Ambassador Zorin: Continue your statement; you will get your answers in due course. Don't worry.
Adlai Stevenson: [asking the Russian ambassador if there are any Soviet missile bases in Cuba] I am prepared to wait for my answer till Hell freezes over, if that's your decision.

Physical resemblance: 8/10
Historical Accuracy: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Production Values: 10/10
Cinematography: 10/10
Directing: 10/10

Overall: 10/10


David said...

I watched this just last night. I can forgive it for the Kenny O'Donnell crap because it is so strong in so many other areas.

Great review.

Crankster said...

Completely agreed. I've yet to find the perfect biopic, but this one is pretty solid.

Thanks for dropping in.

Anonymous said...

This was an amazing movie. Yes, so Ken wasn't depected so accurately. But the accuracy of the rest of the movie is nearly perfect.

Everyone should see this film.

Clare said...

Very cool site! I'm not sure if you've mentioned it or someone else did but don't forget the 1990 something movie "JFK" by Oliver Stone and starring Kevin Costner based on two books. Also don't forget "Patton" 1970 starring George C. Scott and "The Untouchables" starring Sean Connery and Kevin Costner about the life of Eliot Ness as he went after Al Capone and "Coal Miner's Daughter" starring Sissy Spacek,
"The Madness of King George" starring Nigel Hawthorne about King George VI of England and how he went nuts and contemplated taking America back among other thngs (albeit a microscopic part of the movie) and so much more! Just gave you some fun ones to chew on! Keep up the good work!