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The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: Thirteen Days

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.


“Thirteen Days”
Rated PG-13
2000

“Mahhhhh-ning, Jaaaaaackie,” presidential aide Kenny O’Donnell (Kevin Costner) says in a Bah-stin accent in 2000’s Cuban missile crisis biopic “Thirteen Days.”

Costner sounds like a remedial speech-therapy patient, but when doesn’t he sound that way affecting a patois? And as Jack and Bobby Kennedy, respectively, Bruce Greenwood and Robert Culp have their own cottony Mayor Quimby moments.

Whenever accents flared like pesky hemorrhoids, director Roger Donaldson quickly applied ointment. He seized on the doubts of those influencing a response to Soviet warheads in Cuba pointed at America in 1962 and let the pressures of keeping home-front appearances bubble to the forefront of Costner, Greenwood and Culp’s turns.

As Murphy’s Law is pushed to political breaking points and spin doctors’ bedside manners are tested, Donaldson needles “Days” into classic Social Studies drama — wringing situational suspense and character conflict from a historical scenario to which we know the ending. (Spoiler alert: The world’s still here.)

Much of “Days” finds politicians huddled in situation rooms to debate hawk or dove policy — neither side entirely wrong, but clashing for compromise.

At times, it’s like an on-set table read, but it never feels inert, and Donaldson opens “Days” up when possible — an airborne-reconnaissance mission gone awry and Adlai Stevenson’s stick-and-move number on the Soviets at the United Nations.

“Days” terrifically evinces those days’ timorous uncertainty of whether Red dread over ending the world matched Yankee angst. The knowing glances at its conclusion speak volumes: The planet’s lucky break had only to do with random chance.

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