Thirteen Days
Reviewed by David Kashimba

Kevin Costner plays Kenneth O’Donnell in Thirteen Days; the film that shows how close our nation came to WWIII during the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962. O’Donnell was President John F. Kennedy’s friend and political adviser and present at most of ExCom’s deliberations, the executive committee of Kennedy’s National Security Council that held secret meetings to try to resolve the crises. In his book With Kennedy, JFK press secretary Pierre Salinger wrote: “From my viewpoint O’Donnell had the greatest responsibility, influence and accessibility to the president.”

The film pays a lot of attention to detail and accuracy from the recreation of the Kennedy White House and the president’s desk to using the actual record of ExCom’s deliberations for much of the film’s dialogue. But what keeps this film from being a documentary on the crises is the filmmakers’ imagination of how O’Donnell, the president and Robert Kennedy might have reacted in the privacy of the Oval Office.

“…So many films have been made that glorify men fighting,” said producer Armyan Bernstein. “Here is one that explores the more noble idea of men desperately trying to find a way not to fight. Here is a film that dramatically shows the razor’s edge between force, diplomacy and compromise…”

Indeed, what makes this film entertaining, engaging and fresh is the sense of down-to-earth humanity the actors bring to their roles. “There are a lot of men and women like Kenny O’Donnell who people will never know,” comments Costner. “He was really just being a friend and advisor to John F. Kennedy during a time of tremendous crisis but he was a witness to history… For me what was really at issue was how these three men related to each other. I wanted to highlight that their relationship was based on respect, on the idea of not ever backing down, of always saying what’s on your mind. This is what their friendship was all about and what makes it so powerful.”

My only word of warning is that you may find Costner’s attempt at a Boston accent a bit jarring at first, but once you’re wrapped in the story, it will cease to be a problem. There are excellent performances by the entire cast especially Bruce Greenwood (John F. Kennedy) and Steven Culp (Robert F. Kennedy). San Francisco Bay Area theatre buffs will remember Culp in ACT’s Angels in America.

As someone who lived through the Cuban missile crises, I enjoyed the film, and I believe Thirteen Days could also be an excellent teaching tool for young history buffs.

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