The threat of global nuclear catastrophe looms in October of 1962 when photographs from a U2 spy plane reveal military installations in Cuba that boast Soviet-built intermediate-range ballistic missiles. For the first time ever, the USSR poses an immediate nuclear threat to the United States. The Pentagon concludes that the Soviet military philosophy has shifted from defensive to offensive. The President is faced with the very real possibility of World War III. The resulting story is one of high stakes wrangling and international intrigue.
Thirteen Days tells this dramatic story from the perspective of Kennedy political advisor Kenny O’Donnell. It is claimed that the facts of the story are carefully researched and documented in this film. Most of the creative license is taken with Kenny O’Donnell whose role in the crisis was beefed up in order to have him present at the key points in the conflict. The result is a riveting reenactment of what has come to be called the Cuban Missile Crisis.
positive elements: Young Americans who have never heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis will get an eye-opening tour of duty in the White House during one of America’s defining moments. While every detail won’t match the actual event (movie accounts never do), it will most likely engender curiosity about our all-too-recent past. Moviegoers will also catch a glimpse into the political—and familial—culture of the early 1960s. The O’Donnell family is portrayed as a solid unit with a committed mom and dad. Despite Kenny’s long hours at “the office,” he shows obvious concern for his family in the midst of the crisis and a sense of desperation about their possible fate if things go wrong.
spiritual content: There are two scenes in which the President is shown attending worship services. A Catholic church offers 24-hour confessions and displays a sign that asks people to “Pray for Peace.” Even late at night, there are a significant number of people who are taking advantage of the church’s services. When Kenny asks a U2 pilot whether he is a religious man, the man says yes. He also invokes the grace of God prior to his flight. Unfortunately, the movie’s most common profanity is the misuse of Jesus’ name. The Kennedys and their staff use and abuse the Lord’s name frequently and without hesitation.
sexual content: One passing quip. It’s an over-the-shoulder remark about Robert McNamara sitting on Bobby Kennedy’s lap in a crowded car and the latter not getting excited.
violent content: A fighter jet and a U2 surveillance plane are fired upon in two instances. The damage is minor in one and deadly in the other.
crude or profane language: As mentioned, Jesus’ name gets a rough workout. Before the credits roll, various abuses of the Lord’s name arise over 30 times. Nine s-words, one f-word and other profanities raise the total to about 70.
drug and alcohol content: JFK, Bobby and Kenny are shown after apparently having had too much to drink. Kenny drinks hard liquor on several other occasions as well. Various characters are shown smoking throughout the film.
conclusion: All those crazies who built bomb shelters in their back yards have been vindicated. For 13 days, America held its breath, waiting anxiously for a resolution. Thirteen Days doesn’t attempt to convey that part of the story, however. Rather, it concentrates on the inside of the White House, only hinting at what is going on “outside.” It’s a tremendous task to dramatize an event of which we all know the outcome: The world survived. On the other hand, fans of the History Channel will find this an interesting portrayal of America in the sixties, the Kennedy Administration and the crisis itself. It is also a great case study in human nature. To this day, no one can be sure of the Soviet motivation for deploying nuclear weapons in Cuba. But we can be sure that a bevy of emotions and actions (pride, political posturing, a desire for power, prayer and even occasional use of common sense) all played a part in the outcome.
It is almost impossible to make a film about politics without making a political statement. One could argue that the Kennedys were treated well here while the Joint Chiefs and congressional hawks were abused. On the other hand, the film’s perspective (it looked at events through the eyes of Kennedy’s right-hand man) dictates that anyone with differing opinions from those of the Kennedys would be the “bad guys.” It is also nearly impossible to create a historical drama without fabricating a few facts. There is the suggestion that the Joint Chiefs were mobilizing for a coup attempt. Did that actually happen? The military brass is also portrayed as trying to force an international war even though they knew it meant a nuclear exchange. Is that true? Very few men know the answers to such questions. But the questions themselves do create perfect learning opportunities for inquisitive minds.
Kenny states, “The good will of men is all that stands between us and the devil.” He also looks knowingly at a plaque on his desk that reads: “Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat so small.” While his conclusions seem to at first contradict each other, when taken from a Christian perspective, they both make sense. Where does man’s good will come from? Obviously the answer is God. And isn’t some of “man’s good will” apparent in the prayer vigils held at churches across the country? The boat is small, but its Creator is big. Sadly, quantities of profane language will keep many families away from Thirteen Days until it premieres on network television. Once properly edited, however, it will give families an arsenal of learning opportunities (both historical and spiritual). Too bad the TV version won’t mask Kevin Costner’s attempt at a New England accent.