Thirteen Days (12)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner16/03/2001

4 out of 5 stars
Running time: 145 mins

A quick glance at the poster and cast list for this, and you could be forgiven for thinking 'Costner as JFK? Please, God, no!' In fact, there’s no need to worry, as Kev plays JFK's close friend and political advisor, Kenny O'Donnell, and as such, this isn't really a 'Costner Movie' in the sense we've come to dread.

In fact, the film is as far removed from Oliver Stone-style bombast as it's possible to be, and yet still manages to pull off the highly tricky balancing act required of all political / historical movies: 'Keep The Historically Uninformed Interested Whilst Still Informing / Entertaining The Educated'. You might also reasonably expect it to suffer from ‘Apollo 13 syndrome’, i.e. everyone knows the outcome so all the tension is deflated, but happily, this doesn’t turn out to be the case.

The ‘thirteen days’ of the title refers to the length of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that's exactly what you get here - the polictical wrangling behind the scenes of those tense two weeks in 1962. It’s hard to remember the last film to wring so much tension just from -shock, horror- a bunch of people talking. The tension is cranked up still further by having the Kennedys beset by both their own doubts and antagonistic military ‘hawk’ factions within Washington, as well as the (offscreen) Russians themselves.

The acting is superb, even if Costner’s thundering Boston accent takes a lot of getting used to. To be fair, it really isn’t a typical Costner movie at all – it’s true that he's in most of the scenes and that the scenes with his family border on superfluous, but he's certainly not driving the action, and he doesn't have any of those awful grandstanding moments either (even if he does come across as Jack 'n' Bobby's older, more sensible brother at times - "Why, ya scamps - I oughta knock your heads together!" and so on).

In fact, Costner’s role is completely overshadowed by the actors playing JFK and Bobby Kennedy, who, oddly, actually LOOK like brothers. It was a shock to discover that Bruce Greenwood (JFK) was last seen playing Ashley Judd's slimy husband in Double Jeopardy - he seems born to play JFK and he completely inhabits the role. Steven Culp (Bobby) is a revelation too, barely able to contain his hot-headedness, but still capable of masterful diplomacy when it matters most (in one of the film’s best scenes).

There’s also some excellent support from a host of superb character actors playing characters whose names may be familiar from your long-forgotten History ‘A’ Level, notably Dylan Baker as Robert MacNamara, Frank Wood as MacGeorge Bundy and Michael Fairman as Adlai Stevenson. Reading this, it would be easy to conclude that the film is something of a Kennedy love-in, but that's not the case either.

In fact, one of the most impressive things about the film (apparently based on a series of White House tapes) is its -one imagines- realistic depiction of the Kennedys, not as decisive take-charge leaders, but as basically good men, feeling their way through a hostile political environment and not afraid to admit their mistakes. There are some real nail-biting scenes here, even if you do know the eventual outcome of the crisis. These variously involve the pilots of the spy-planes, Adlai Stevenson rescuing his political career at the conference, Bobby negotiating the final deal, and so on.

In short, then, this is well worth seeing – it’s thrilling, informative and thought-provoking and its 145 minute running time will just fly past, and in these days of painfully overlong movies, that’s saying a great deal. Recommended.

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Thirteen Days (12)
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Content updated: 14/12/2017 19:08

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