Much of what my daughter is learning in American History class I lived through as a child. The race for the moon, Viet Nam, the assignations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King and the height of the cold war. Its the last point that comes to mind with my viewing of Thirteen Days. Numerous drills in school to prepare for when the Communist nuclear bombs start to fall. Thirteen Days covers a period of time in 1962 when the world was closer to a nuclear war than ever before and thankfully, ever since. It all started on October 16, 1962. High altitude spy photos showed the building of nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from American soil with a range sufficient to destroy almost anywhere in the continental US. The message is simple, The USSR is planning for a first strike option. Having to handle this problem is the young President Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) and his brother Robert (Steven Culp). The story is basically told through the eyes of trusted White House Special Assistant Kenny ODonnell (Kevin Costner. An old friend of the Kennedy family he is basically in charge of political aspects of the presidency but he finds himself in the middle of the most crucial set of decisions made in the history of mankind. By means of ODonnell we get to be privy to the newly declassified conversations in the locked rooms where the decisions where made. We also see how this crisis affected the man. The impact it had on a husband and father worried about his family. This struck close to home for me personally. I remember the air raid drills, the ducking under our desks and being sent home in October of 1962 from a public school, the teacher asking all to pray for President Kennedy. As a child I couldnt understand the real importance of what was going on but I never saw adults so afraid in my life. This film conveys this fear with brutal honesty. Kennedy was not popular with the political and military leads of the time. He not only had to fight the Russian but mot of his own staff as well.
In order for a historical drama like this to work you have to get actors that no only resemble the famous people they portray but they must capture the essential character of these people and project it on the screen. The producers of this film looked a long time for the cast and they delivered. Greenwood plays Kennedy a bit differently from many other films concerning this president. He shows him as being unsure of what to do, a bit confused by the conflicting advice of the politicians and the commitment to war the military advisors presented. Greenwood also shows an inner strength that Kennedy had to have. He had the fate of the entire human race in his hands and was all too well aware of it. Culp as brother Bobby is also an excellent choice. He present the younger brother as the one that did the behind the scene deals, the trusted advisor of the president but also the one used as his whip, the man that made things happen. Costner is no stranger to playing the politician. His ODonnell is a man that signed on to make his friend a popluar president but wound up having to help in these critical decisions. Even the smaller roles are well cast. Kevin Conway is perfect as the hawk Curtis LeMay, head of the Air Force. A man so anxious to drop the bomb that he could almost taste the opportunity.
The director of this epic story is no stranger to a number of different genres. Roger Donaldson has been a successful director for many years now. Among his achievements is the 1984 version of the Bounty, No Way Out, a political thriller set in Washington DC with Kevin Costner, the remake of the Getaway and Dantes Peak. Donaldson wastes no time in getting into the tense story. It starts with the discovery of the missile sites in Cuba. He also had access to much of the original material including the actual photos and tapes of the actual meetings seen in the film. Donaldson presents some scenes in black and white to enhance the documentary feel of the piece. He also frames the shots to resemble news photos of the day. Great care was given to the physical characteristics of not only the characters but also the sets. There is a stark contrast between the overly lit rooms of power and the soft natural light of the home environment. Donaldson also takes time to show the impact of the crisis on the public. In one scene ODonnell passes a church that is open 24 hours for pray and confession. He joins the line, even though he is close to the seat of power and confident in the abilities of his friend, the President, he is a many, worried over the safety of his family.
New Line has launched a new series of DVDs with this film. It is called the InfiniFilm. It goes far beyond the standard extras. Aside from the color bars for calibration we have all seen before the new InfiniFilm has a special way of viewing the film where hot links appear at the bottom of the film. Clicking on them provides added information about a situation or character. This provides a lot of nice little tidbits to greatly enhance the experience and understanding of the actual crisis. The sound is a well balanced 5.1 Dolby with anamorphic 1.85:1 video. This is not only for people that remember this critical time but for anyone interested in the truth behind the most important decisions made in mankinds history.