Thirteen Days Movie Review

I don't often override the writers at filmcritic.com, free speech and individual preference being what they are, but every now and then I disagree with a critic so much, I am called to make a response. (And since we published this review in January 2001, the reader mail has let me know just what they thought of this bit of criticism....)

Thirteen Days is the film in question -- and unlike staff writer James Brundage I felt the film was a truly powerful one, an eye-opening dissection of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a sobering study of how close we came to annihialation during the Cold War, and a peek behind the scenes of detente. An excellent companion to another (even better) Kevin Costner vehicle, Oliver Stone's JFK, Thirteen Days is not an actor's showcase like JFK is, but rather lets its story do the telling, taking us behind the scenes as decisions with cascading consequences are made. To be sure, Roger Donaldson was likely a poor choice as director -- his arbitrary use of black and white vs. color, his heavy-handedness in glorifying Kennedy at every turn, and his preachy doomsaying all wear a bit thin. But even he can't ruin the film completely.

New Line's DVD is even more compelling than the film itself. While it can't make Costner's accent sound any better, it does offer a wealth of features, all part of New Line's new infinifilm label. The disk gives every button on your remote a workout, but my favorite component is the interactive subtitle feature, that lets you jump from the film to extra footage, historical mini-documentaries, or cast biographies, all in the context of what's happening during the show. It's an excellent use of the DVD format and should make any history buff go ape.

My overall rating: [][][][]

Of course, in the interest of free speech, equal time, and fair play, here's James's original, dissenting review. You be the judge which of us has the most of his marbles left. - Christopher Null

[


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That's it. The nostalgia trip is heading for a long walk off of a short pier. This time out, it's potential nuclear holocaust... but with a heart. And in case you're still wondering what egghead producer would try to pull off such a stunt, I'll give you a hint: He's also the film's biggest star.

Thirteen Days, the second film of 2000 to do a number on the Massachusetts accent (you should hear Kevin Costner's drunk New Jerseyite ), deals with a short period of 13 days in the 1960s during which we almost destroyed the world. No, it's not Crimson Tide, Part 2. It's the Cuban Missile Crisis, presented by the incapable hands of director Roger Donaldson (of such gems as Dante's Peak and Species), who attempts to get all artsy on us by periodically employing black and white photography. Spending two-and-a-half hours exploring as few facets of this erstwhile riveting story as possible, Roger Donaldson tries to keep us guessing in the hopes that no one will remember whether or not we all died in 1962. (Here's another hint: We did not.)

There really isn't much I can tell you about the events within Thirteen Days that you don't already know, but in case you never attended junior high, here's the story: In 1962, the Soviets began putting nuclear missiles in Cuba with the obvious plan that, being so near, they could wipe us out before we had a chance to retaliate. (Never mind the fact that we had missiles in Europe and had similar attack capabilities -- the Soviets could have blown us away in about five minutes, and, as Americans, we got all uppity about it.)

Admittedly, the Cuban Missile Crisis was a bit before my time, but the film just doesn't wash. Dramatic family montages, cheap stock footage, cliched characters -- they're all here. Characters are introduced as if we are a nation of second-graders. And worst of all, the film drags on for the aforementioned 2 1/2 hours while failing to build even a semblance of suspense. Imagine Apollo 13 if it were made really badly -- because you are stuck with an ending you can't change, it's up to the filmmaker to bring the events alive. Unfortunately, Donaldson's only way to even try to do this is to intersperse stock footage of nuclear explosions into the movie to attempt to trick us into thinking the bombs might have somehow gone off. But we know better.

The result is not a reliving of the Cuban Missile Crisis: It's a sickening exploitation of a historical event that plays to the patriotic losers clutching for lost years of Americana. Still don't believe me? Go to the movie's web site (see below) and check out the strategic military exercise, a game in which it's your responsibility to destroy the Russians. [][] -James Brundage

Long walk, short hall.


Comments

Thirteen Days Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: PG-13, 2000

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