Thirteen Days


Sir, I am prepared to wait for your answer till hell freezes over, if that's your decision.

From Thirteen Days, 2000

Thirteen Days was a 2000 political and historical drama directed by Roger Donaldson, starring Kevin Costner and Bruce Greenwood. The film follows the actions of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, a time when the world was teetering on the brink of an all-out atomic conflict between the United States of America and the Soviet Union.

Thirteen Days views the events of 1962 from a behind-the-scenes perspective within the corridors of power in the US Government, and is heavily influenced by actual journalism from the period. Bruce Greenwood takes a central and commanding role in the film as President John F Kennedy, portraying with conviction the decisions that will ultimately steer his country, and the world at large, towards or away from a terrible holocaust.

Kevin Costner also takes a lead role as Kenneth O’Donnell, a close advisor to the President, and a stern loyalist at a time when the risk posed by the Soviets deeply divides the various echelons of the US Government and threatens to create a power struggle.

The situation finds its nightmarish beginnings during the height of the Cold War, when a US spy plane discovers proof that the Soviet Union has emplaced nuclear missiles on Cuba, effectively allowing Russian commanders to destroy dozens of American cities in the southern and eastern portions of the continental United States.

The fear and suspicion of such a dangerous provocation causes internal politics to quickly spiral out of control for the President as old rivalries and tensions in the administration begin to surface around him. Kennedy needs to show that he is strong-minded enough to face the Soviets and force them to remove their missiles. The possibility that the Soviets are making a ploy to get American concessions crosses his mind, but he is put in the difficult position of knowing that he cannot make any public moves to placate the Soviets, for fear that it will set a disturbing precedent and show a sign of weakness. The Pentagon advises the President to commence military strikes against Cuba, and the idea has many backers in the highest ranks of the Government. But Kennedy knows that an attack on Cuba might result in a greater conflict with the Soviets, eventually resulting in an apocalypse. Trying to prevent the apparently unstoppable escalation between the two nations, the President, supported by O’Donnell, tries to work behind the scenes to work around the situation and negotiate a peace deal with the Russians that will see the missiles removed from Cuba without any public concessions. Keep in mind, this was a time with no camcorders or satellite so information was slow to exist between the two superpowers.

A strong supporting cast delivers a powerful screen presence from a variety of directions, in the form of personalities who not only hold the reins of power in the US Government, but are willing to pull strings to try to get their own way at a time when one false move could result in disaster. Throughout this, O’Donnell remains by the President’s side and commands every resource available to him in an effort to halt the situation, while at the same time bearing in mind his family, and fearing for what will happen to them if he fails in his duty to his President.

Thirteen Days is based upon “The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis”, an insider account by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow.

The film Thirteen Days is a great though slightly fictional depiction of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 like a shark in the waters of the Caribbean near Cuba. Though some parts are fictional, the film remained true to the events that happened in the thriteen day window of the crisis. The film brought to light the part of JFK, played by Bruce Greenwood, in the crisis. It showed how he was faced with myriad issues, from the threat of Russian bureaucracy to the interests of the American people. The film showed how the people's opinions and the opinions of the people immediately surrounding him added to the burden he is currently facing as the main decision-maker for his country.

Kevin Costner's part as Kenny O'Donnell was a bit exaggerated. As senior assistant to the President, he may have the power to do things. But as portrayed in the movie, O'Donnell says and does things that the President cannot, making it appear as if the President himself had less power than him. It appeared as if he was preventing the President from knowing what is actually going on. This was shown in the scened where O'Donnell calls up a navy pilot and advised him that if he was asked by the President, he must not say that he was shot at in Cuba, as the President might react in retaliation. The exaggeration, however, was put in such a way that viewers are kept on tight strings. It added tension to the film and at times relaxes, only to tense up even tighter in the next string of events.

Kennedy's agony over the events that occurred in those thirteen days was dramatically captured by the film. His indecision over the several matters as well as the overbearing weight of responsibility were clearly shown. The film showed that while the rest of the world saw Ameria as calm in the face of the unknown, America's core, in fact, was made up of real men who have nowhere else to go and no one else to look to for help. It focused on their dilemmas, vulnerability, and their fear of coming to total disaster. The film bore weight on Kennedy's decision making responsibilities. The uncertainty of the results of different courses of actions creating a labyrinth of possible number of outcomes which may all lead to vast destruction. Kennedy's desire for a peaceful resolution opposed by the military leaders because they think of this decision as a sign of being weak, and also the military's vindiction due to their unsuccessful invasion of Cuba the eyar before marring their ability to see things peacefully through.

It is a strong drama showing the world of a great nation's vulnerability. A vulnerability created by the egos of the men behind the nation. The film gave viewers a feeling of being cornered with the American nation, as each day's passing brings the missiles much closer to their country.

Despite the knowledge of the true outcome of the crisis, viewers are still kept on a tight leash. A leash that lashes them to a very strong post of what the facts are, and yet, constantly being threatened of the leash coming undone with every surprising turn of events. The film focused on the characters' effect on the events, not the other way around. It showed how fearsome power can be and how a powerful nation can be brought to its knees if the man at its core made a single mistake.

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