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:: Thirteen Days

If you are a Cold War or Kennedy buff, then Thirteen Days is the film for you. If you’re not, it’s an over long history lesson, missing the emotional and visceral impact of films such as JFK (also starring Costner) and Apollo 13. All these films are locked into an ending the audience is well aware of, (in case you’re not sure, we did not end up in nuclear war in 1962, we’re still here) yet, unlike Thirteen Days, they manage to grip the audience with the journey.

Australian born director Roger Donaldson, of ‘Cocktail’ fame, seems to be paying ‘homage’ to Oliver Stone with some inexplicable use of black and white film which is forgotten about half way through. There, the similarities to Stone end and what follows is scene after scene of John F Kennedy (played convincingly, though not very charismatically, by Bruce Greenwood) trying to decide whether or not to bomb Cuba.

On October 16 1962 the US discovered that the Russians are installing medium range ballistic missiles in Cuba, putting all of the US (except for Seattle) within minutes of nuclear attack. Kennedy has a limited window of time before the missiles become operational and the Russians are capable of a first strike. The army brass pushes unanimously for steps that would lead to World War Three whilst Kennedy struggles to find a diplomatic solution.

Kevin Costner plays Kenneth O’Donnell, Special Assistant to the President and the audience’s conduit into the world of the Kennedy’s. His accent, amusing to being with, grows to become intermittently annoying. I’m sure O’Donnell probably spoke that way, but most of the audience wouldn’t know that and probably wouldn’t care. The accuracy was not worth the jarring effect every time Costner opened his mouth. O’Donnell seems to spend much of his time telling either the Kennedys or his wife how smart and good Bobby and John are, to the point where it started to elicit groans and laughter from the audience.

There are moments of tension, most of them having little to do with the Kennedys and the various meetings, particularly a sequence where a U2 plane is shot down, but they are too few and far between. In the days when the TV show “The West Wing” manages to make the most minute of political intrigues fascinating, whilst balancing that American sentimentality and self congratulation, Thirteen Days seems thoroughly inadequate as both a thriller and an insight into American politics.

Screening on general release