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Since I already knew the outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I wasn't expecting THIRTEEN DAYS ($27) to be one of the most compelling and suspenseful movies that I'd seen in a very long time. Since I hadn't been born when the events depicted in the film actually transpired, I don't know if many people actually realized how close the world came to nuclear war during a two-week period in October 1962. THIRTEEN DAYS offers a bird's eye view of the political, military and diplomatic wrangling that took place in the Kennedy White House after a spy plane took photographs of Soviet nuclear missiles being installed on the island nation of Cuba. To recount the entire story would be a waste of time for those already familiar with the complete history, and it would do a disservice to those experiencing THIRTEEN DAYS for the first time.

THIRTEEN DAYS is told from the vantage point of Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner), a high ranking member of Kennedy's inner circle, who personally made sure that the President’s directives were carried out as intended, as well as insulating JFK from certain political eventualities. Costner certainly gives one of his better performances as O'Donnell, although his Massachusetts accent does waiver somewhat. Bruce Greenwood does a great job of embodying John F. Kennedy during the toughest crisis that almost any American President had to face. Kennedy truly had to perform a hire wire balancing act- having to come up with a solution that would compel the Soviets to remove their nuclear weapons from Cuba, without forcing the Russian’s into an all out war. Steven Culp bares a marked resemblance to Robert F. Kennedy, with lends additional weight to what is already a solid performance.

THIRTEEN DAYS truly benefits from David Self's incredibly taut script, which takes a cut and dried incident from history and turns it into a compelling political thriller. Director Roger Donaldson maintains a sense of tension throughout the film, which almost becomes unbearable towards the end of the crisis, despite the audience already knowing the outcome. In addition to the three leads, the fine cast of THIRTEEN DAYS also features Dylan Baker, Henry Strozier, Frank Wood, Len Cariou, Janet Coleman, Stephanie Romanov, Bill Smitrovich, Ed Lauter, Dakin Matthews, Walter Adrian, Peter White, Tim Kelleher and James Karen.


New Line Home Video has selected THIRTEEN DAYS as the film to usher in their new Infinifilm line of DVDs, which is a step up from their already incredible Platinum Series. As with almost any other New Line DVD release, THIRTEEN DAYS looks terrific. The film is presented in its proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the DVD features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. THIRTEEN DAYS employs various cinematic tricks that skew the look of the movie at various points. There are black and white sequences that slowly fade to color, as well as stock footage from the 1960s that has been digitally cleaned and colorized to mesh better with the rest of the movie. Obviously, new photography looks better than stock footage, plus the shots that go from black and white to color aren't as impressive as the main body of the film. Still, the transfer does manage to bring out the best from the varying picture quality of the movie. Most of the film is very crisp and finely detailed. In general, colors are well saturated and completely stable. Certainly, there is some fluctuation in the intensity of the hues, but this is due to a stylistic choice made by the filmmakers. Additionally, flesh tones maintain an appealing quality, despite manipulations to the film's photography. Blacks are fairly velvety, plus the picture produces a good level of shadow detail in a majority of the darker scenes. Again, stock footage and stylized sequences don't fully match the characteristics of the main body of the film. Digital compression artifacts are nowhere to be seen on this finely authored dual layered DVD.

For a dialogue driven drama, THIRTEEN DAYS includes a very clean, very precise sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 channel sound mix. Directional and surround effects are employed only during key moments during the film, but when they do occur they are completely convincing and never take the audience out of the moment. The bottom end is completely authoritative and the higher end never comes across as shrill. Composer Trevor Jones contributes an understated, but highly effective musical score that is beautifully integrated into the soundtrack. The score maintains a fully musical presence throughout the film and the superlative sound design prevents music from drowning out the dialogue. The dialogue itself is faithfully reproduced with excellent intelligibility, despite the heavy Massachusetts accents of certain characters. No other language tracks are included nor are subtitles.

Animation and sound enhance the interactive menus, which supply access to the standard scene selection and set up features. Supplements can also be selected through the menus, although can be viewed in the standard manner or through the new Infinifilm option, which adds a new dimension to the film watching process. Selecting the Infinifilm option makes the movie watching process more interactive, because it allows one access to supplemental material throughout the course of the movie. When an icon appears on screen, the viewer can check out ancillary materials that pertain to a particular moment in the film and then are whisked back to the point in the movie where they left off. As I previously indicated, the supplements are also accessible in the standard manner, which allows the viewer to enjoy the film first and watch the supplements later.

Under the supplemental section titled "All Access Pass" we find an audio commentary featuring director Roger Donaldson, producer/star Kevin Costner, producer Armyan Bernstein, executive producer Michael De Luca, screenwriter David Self, and visual effects supervisor Michael McAlister. Although edited together, the commentary track is highly informative about the production and what hurdles had to be overcome to get THIRTEEN DAYS up on the screen. Bringing History To The Silver Screen is an eleven-minute featurette that looks at the challenges of making a historically accurate and entertaining motion picture. Visual effects supervisor Michael McAlister introduces a special effects featurette, which employs multiple angles to look at the breakdown of one of the film's impressive CGI sequences. A theatrical trailer, filmographies and nine deleted sequences that feature optional director commentary are also present under the "All Access Pass" section.

The "Beyond The Film" section features all of the DVD's supplements that deal specifically with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Starting things off is the Historical Figures Commentary Track, which feature portions of recordings from individuals involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis, including John F. Kennedy, Kenneth O'Donnell, Pierre Salinger and Robert McNamara. Also interjecting comments on the audio track are Sergei Khrushchev (son of the Soviet leader), plus historians Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow. This is an incredibly interesting and educational track because in its way, it makes history come alive. Equally informative is the historical information subtitle track, which presents the viewer with a steam of additional historical facts that they can read while watching the film. Also included are nineteen biographies on historical figures that were directly associated with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Closing out the "Beyond The Film" section is the forty-eight minute documentary Roots Of The Cuban Missile Crisis. Utilizing archival footage and new interview sequences, this is the type of first-rate educational entertainment program one normally sees on The History Channel or PBS. THIRTEEN DAYS is also DVD-ROM enabled, allowing viewers access to the film's screenplay and theatrical web site.

THIRTEEN DAYS is an entertaining and suspenseful political thriller based upon historic fact. In fact, this is one of the best films that I've seen in the last year. With that said, it’s a shame that THIRTEEN DAYS wasn’t seen by a much larger audience than those who paid to see it in theaters. Hopefully, the tremendous DVD release will rectify that situation. If you have even the slightest interest in the film, please take the time to check it out- you won't be disappointed. Additionally, New Line Home Video deserves tremendous credit for introducing their Infinifilm series of DVDs. Infinifilm truly takes New Line DVDs beyond what the company already achieved with their superb Platinum Series. This fantastic DVD is absolutely recommended.


Thirteen Days (Infinifilm Edition)


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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