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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Thirteen Days, a docudrama about the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, is exciting and suspenseful, even though the actual outcome is well known. The film is a recreation of a crucial incident in American history that's suitable for teens and mature tweens, as well as adults. There's frequent swearing used to heighten the emotional impact (i.e., "bastard," "asshole," "s--t," "Jesus Christ," one use of "f--k"). Because the film is set in the 1960s, smoking is a casual part of many of the meetings in the White House. Alcoholic beverages are consumed in several scenes, never to excess. President John F. Kennedy is seen taking a prescription drug on one occasion.
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What's the story?
THIRTEEN DAYS chronicles the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when American planes took photos that confirmed the existence of a secret Soviet missile base under construction in Cuba for nuclear missiles capable of striking the United States, provoking a 13-day confrontation between the Soviet Union and Cuba on one side and the U.S. on the other. President John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) had endured the botched attempt at the Bay of Pigs to overthrow Castro the previous year. This drama doesn't waste time on introductions or exposition, giving the story a sense of immediacy and urgency. Advisors like Dean Acheson and the military urge JFK to bomb the sites. But Adlai Stevenson says, "One of us in the room should be a coward," and he asks the president to come up with a diplomatic solution. Kennedy knows better than to fight the last war, but he is not sure how to fight the next one. The president and his advisors argue about what to do ("Bombing them sure would feel good!"), interrupted by "just as usual" events to avoid letting the press or the Soviets suspect that anything was going on. When President Kennedy tells Chicago Mayor Daley that he "wouldn't miss this event for the world," we appreciate the literal meaning of his words.
Is it any good?
This gripping film will leave audiences reminding themselves that we are still here, and for once, the tag line has it just right: "You'll never know how close we came." Thirteen Days may seem like a movie script, but it really happened.
Producer Kevin Costner plays a real person, Kennedy staffer Kenny O'Donnell, but the character combines the roles and actions of several people and essentially exists to help tell the story as efficiently as possible. Most of the time, he blends in with a large, capable cast of character actors (though he seems to make himself too important in a pep-talk scene and at the end there is a sort of "Three Musketeers" shot that seems inappropriate).
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the portrayal of the Cuban missile crisis in Thirteen Days. Why is this incident considered such an important historical event? What other movies have you seen that deal with the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union?
Families can also talk about what we do when we have hard choices to make. President Kennedy and his brother, his closest advisor, listen to advice from experts, but realize they must make their own judgment. Who would help you make a big decision?
- In theaters: December 25, 2000
- On DVD or streaming: July 10, 2001
- Cast: Drake Cook, Jon Foster, Kevin Costner
- Director: Roger Donaldson
- Studio: New Line
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Great Boy Role Models, History
- Character strengths: Communication, Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 145 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief strong language
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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