Thirteen Days

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Thirteen Days

Thirteen Days takes its title from Robert Kennedy's slim, dramatic memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the bulk of its material is drawn from White House tapes of the event. If nothing else, that's necessary to pad out the running time of a feature film: Kennedy almost demurely refers to heated arguments between powerful men of good intentions while refusing to describe them in detail, and a direct adaptation of his book would have produced a glorified short subject. On the other hand, by limiting its focus almost entirely to discussions in the corridors of power, Roger Donaldson's film sets up its own almost equally rigid limitations. Handsomely mounted and well-acted, particularly by Bruce Greenwood and Steven Culp (as John and Robert Kennedy, respectively), it nonetheless has the feel of a State Department highlight reel. Only a few glimpses outside the White House—to protesters and 24-hour confession booths—reference the broader perspective that the film otherwise lacks. Historians have carped that Days dramatically overemphasizes the role played by presidential advisor Kenny O'Donnell (producer/star Kevin Costner's character), but even if the complaint is baseless, it still pinpoints the film's greatest weakness. In addition to failing to distinguish himself in the midst of a talented ensemble, Costner seems superfluous, his character inserted into scenes with the Kennedys after the fact, as with Zelig or Forrest Gump. Around him, the film efficiently ticks through a timeline of the crisis, and while this will no doubt be of use to lazy high-school history teachers, Days only really struggles to life in select moments. Adlai Stevenson's (Michael Fairman) unexpected triumph on the U.N. floor and the confrontation between the White House and Kennedy-hating members of the military, for example, belong in a film with a much stronger point of view.