Four Stars - Profound
In these times of relative world peace, it is sometimes hard to remember when the world came within moments of nuclear disaster. “Thirteen Days” is a gripping saga of the Cuban missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in October 1962.
The story is based loosely on the book of the same name by Robert Kennedy that was published a few months after his death in 1968. While the book chronicles the discovery of missiles in Cuba and the brinkmanship that followed, the movie conveys a tension that surpasses any fictional mystery.
For those who lived through this event, the film will bring back the sense of fear that gripped America as it realized that within hours we could be facing nuclear annihilation. For anyone too young to remember the event, this is the retelling of history at its best.
In 1961, the newly elected President John F. Kennedy has been persuaded by his military advisors to cooperate with an invasion of Cuba at the Bay of
Pigs led by Cuban expatriates. The invasion turned into a disaster, and the President was humiliated.
Equally so, Cuba's prime sponsor, the Soviet Union, was determined to flex its muscle and challenge the United States to never invade the island again. The USSR played its strongest hand and decided to quietly locate medium range nuclear missiles in the jungles of Cuba.
In October of 1962, a spy plane flying over Cuba discovered the installation of the missiles only 13 days before they would be activated.
Knowing that these missiles could destroy the United States within 5 minutes, the President knew he had to act boldly to force their removal, yet carefully to avoid disaster.
While the film follows the facts of the event accurately, it is the struggle of the moral issues that grip our civilian and military leaders that provides the depth of the film.
President John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) and his brother Robert Kennedy (Steven Culp) are up against the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a battle between diplomacy and a military hard line. As the Special Assistant to the President, Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner) leads the Kennedys on a path of conscience over might. The decisions to be made are never clear-cut.
Pressured by the military to seize the opportunity for a first strike, President Kennedy knows the probability that any bombing of Cuba could, and probably would, escalate into a nuclear war. Reminiscing about the book The Guns Of August, which chronicled the disastrous mistakes of World War I, Kennedy laments that it seems immoral to abandon one's own conscience for the sake of the group's opinion.
As one event after another spirals out of control, Americans line up at churches to pray. At the White House and at the United Nations, while citizens and world leaders posture for political advantage, the sense of fear grips everyone involved.
Any political leader knows that there will come a time that tests one's political skill. By contrast, the profound and lonely decision that President Kennedy had to make could have led to the annihilation of the
human race. From our vantage point today, we know the outcome of his decisions. Looking over his shoulder in the film, though, one can only imagine what choices we would make in the same situation.