Saturday, October 18, 2008

Thirteen Days


It is unclear to me if the film Thirteen Days got any inspiration at all from the book of the same name written by one of the principals, Robert F. Kennedy. But then the scriptwriters of the film have the next best thing because they in fact included the authors of The Kennedy Tapes - Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Thirteen Days is a political thriller of a real life event, the Cuban Missile Crisis which happened in 1962. The title was derived from the time span of the crisis, from the discovery of the missiles in Cuba to its disarmament. Just to give the short version the Soviet Union placed nuclear weapons in Cuba; the Americans found out and didn’t like missiles so close to Florida; and suffice to say a nuclear hell almost literally broke lose.

In the lead is Kevin Costner as Kenny O’Donnell, Kennedy’s appointments secretary and close personal adviser to the President. Kenny would be, in the film at least, the third most important man in the decision making process of the administration: the Kennedy brother’s being the top two.

Acting wise Costner will always be Costner; yet while I never wished for the stars in his performance the accent bugged me a little. It sounded like a Kennedy. Maybe it was the real Kenny’s accent but then again maybe not.

The downside was that it made me feel like there was an impressionist loose in the story. The rest of the cast of Thirteen Days did well enough; it felt real except Costner. It’s like being in the same room with the US President as he decided the fate of the world. Bruce Greenwood was very presidential as John F. Kennedy that is if you don’t mind the voice. It was too deep from what I remember of JFK from actual footages.

Steven Culp did better as Robert F. Kennedy. He had the voice and he had the bangs. As for the others, they gelled which is important. The viewers will know at once who the people are, at least in the hierarchy of the story.

It must be reminded however that the film has been disputed at least from the point of view of who is important and who is not: O’Donnell is one. Though he seems like a friend of the famous brothers especially Bobby according to some websites, his role in the crisis according to critics of the film, Kennedy Defense Secretary Robert McNamara among them, is little.

There have been criticisms about the representations of the rest of the Kennedy people too. Inadequate was the word that comes to mind when in real life many of the policy makers of that period were highly educated men; scholars, lawyers, even academics.

Most criticisms may be right on the money. McGeorge Bundy for one was almost invisible when his position as National Security Advisor would make him one of the most important people in the crisis.

But rightly or wrongly I leave it to Hollywood to add some creativity to the situation as far as it can without breaking. History though very important has always had a reputation of being boring when studied. What matters every time in these situations is that viewers be inspired to read up and check the information on their own.

You can check up the two books that I have already mentioned: The Kennedy Tapes - Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis and Thirteen Days by Robert Kennedy.

Now people may say it’s boring to read up on this; that it’s America, that it’s a hemisphere away. But compared to the millennium brouhaha; the affair with Saddam, Bin Laden, and the Iraq War: the world really could have ended in those thirteen days.