Will 'D-13' Soon Be History Teachers' Required Viewing?In lieu of all the movies that glorify war, "D-13" is a rejuvenating film that examines the more noble idea of men desperately trying to avoid war.
Director Roger Donaldson can be likened to a really good professor in his handling of "D-13." Like a run-of-the-mill teacher, the movie has the potential to be boring with droning regurgitation of facts. Instead, Donaldson resembles the other kind of teacher, who studies the events inside out and uses his expertise to relate facts not available from the textbook version. He mesmerizes us like school students with little-known facts and shows President John Kennedy contacting surveillance pilots about to fly over Cuba with instructions "not to get shot down" so as to avoid giving his overly war-zealous generals an excuse to retaliate and start a war. We learn of the tug-of-war that occurs between the Kennedy "Camelot" and the nation's top brass, and that the blockade of Cuba was not so much a blockade as it was Kennedy's way of communicating to Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev.
"D-13" (internationally known as "Thirteen Days") refers to the short span of time from Oct. 16 to Oct. 28 in 1962, during which the world waited in anticipation as America and Russia stood on the brink of a potential nuclear World War III. Russia's ties to Cuba after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959 made the United States wary, especially after the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion.
Even though Russia constantly and publicly denied any deployment of nuclear arms to Cuba, U.S. intelligence knew otherwise through surveillance photos taken by a U-2 spy plane of Russian missiles in Cuba. The photos were proof that Russia had more than 40 nuclear war heads strategically placed and, once the missiles were operational, would be able to hit virtually any American target with only five minutes warning. With only a few days leeway to make a decision on how to resolve the crisis, tension peaked and President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba.
It's hard to dramatize history because the outcome is a forgone conclusion. But Donaldson remakes history into the thriller of the year by providing insider facts and opening up the rather limited scope of the audience into a bird's-eye view. In particular, Donaldson allows viewers to appreciate the tremendous complexity of the situation. Each member of Kennedy's cabinet, including his military advisors, had a different idea of how to solve the Cuban missile crisis. Each idea was equally valid, yet none offered America a window of safety that Kennedy could feel comfortable about. In this sense, the movie portrays President Kennedy as a true political genius (a notion sometimes left unsaid rather than proven) and is backed up by a strong performance by Bruce Greenwood ("Double Jeopardy") who portrays Kennedy as a living, breathing individual susceptible to faults, yet expected to be perfect.
The film does a good job of recreating the '60s, yet the cutting-and-pasting of video footage of war cruisers getting ready for attack was not so effective in creating time and space. Perhaps intending to add a tone of stark realism, the contrast of the grainy film against the crisp footage of the movie really only gives the appearance of an unpolished project.
Kevin Costner plays Kennedy's right-hand man, Kenny O'Donnell. While Costner is eternally watchable, he runs into a bit of trouble near the end as a result of the script's self-absorbed speeches. Meanwhile, Steven Culp is equally as good as JFK's younger brother Bobby. Other notable performances include Dylan Baker as Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Michael Fairman as the tough as nails U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson. This is one of the few films where literally every actor's role was an added plus to the movie.
At times the generals of the various military services are relegated to villain-like status, trying to pin Kennedy into fighting a war. And with the introduction of a Russian spy who is supposedly Khruschev's direct link to the United States, you begin to wonder where fact stops and fiction begins. Though fictionalized and dramatized in parts, the end results of this mostly factual movie are impressive and will leave no one complaining.
by Joseph Kim