Thirteen Days didn’t deserve to bomb at the box office the way it did, as it’s one of Roger Donaldson’s best films, and a riveting true life tale that everyone should be familiar with. Released in 2000, the film was met with excellent critical reviews, but it was likely too talky to break out with the younger action crowd, and not sold hard enough to more adult minded audiences. David Self’s focused and extremely well researched screenplay was an adaptation of the book, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow, and showed a steadfast determination to historical verisimilitude as well as cinematic dramaturgy. And while some people took exception to the filmmakers beefing up the role that political consultant Kenneth O’Donnell played during all of this, Kevin Costner’s forceful performance was in perfect tandem with the two true stars of the movie, Bruce Greenwood as President John F. Kennedy, and Steven Culp as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Greenwood and Culp clearly studied the mannerisms of the men they were portraying via archival footage and photographs, because they both seemed totally at ease and naturalistic while playing these towering individuals.
Everything about this movie, from a production standpoint, feels 100% authentic, from the fabulous production design by Dennis Washington and his entire art direction team, to the appropriately classical cinematography by ace lenser Andrzej Bartkowiak, who made good and clever use of black and white processing in some key historical segments, while never pumping anything up too visually, which was important as this film relied on the spoken word more than anything else. The fabulous supporting cast is too large to list; let’s just say that every single face sitting around all of the various board rooms and elongated desks feels weathered, tired, nervous, and perfectly cast. Conrad Buff’s extremely taut editing kept the film moving at a fast pace without ever sacrificing coherence, and considering that this is a film that consists almost entirely of men in suits speaking in large rooms and offices, the fact that it’s as energetic as it is speaks to Donaldson and Buff’s understanding of the fluidity to multi-character storytelling. The contemplative and hopeful musical score by Trevor Jones pulled everything together without any bombast, opting for quiet in all the right moments, while still feeling robust when needed. Thirteen Days is a movie I’ve seen countless times, and yet I look forward to each viewing as if it were the first.