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Tuesday January 16, 2001

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The Kings of Camelot

Headline Photo

Photo courtesy of New Line Cinema.

Kings of Camelot: Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (Steven Culp, left) and presidential aide Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner, right) support the president John F. Kennedy's (Bruce Greenwood) quest to find a peaceful solution to the Cuban missile crisis in the drama "Thirteen Days." The film is in theaters now.

By Graig Uhlin

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Thirteen Days documents heroicism, policy decisions of the Cuban missle crisis

Grade: A-

"Thirteen Days," a gripping drama about the Kennedy administration's handling of the Cuban missile crisis, may seem familiar to viewers of NBC's "The West Wing," for the reason that both give a behind-the-scenes look at presidential policy in the making while attempting to restore the heroicism of this land's highest office.

The American public, embittered by spin and rhetoric, are all but jumping at the chance to be witness to the imperfect daily decisions that go into governing a country all in the name of preserving the unpolished process of democracy.

"The West Wing" has almost single-handedly restored confidence in the office of the president and the democratic process -hanging chads aside - because in its portrayal of policy battles, fierce debates and political maneuvering, heroes are allowed to emerge.

Now, on the heels of the show's second season, comes "Thirteen Days," directed by Roger Donaldson, which unforunately is an atypical movie that will feel all too typical to NBC watchers.

Donaldson's Kennedy administration is a weakened one where the young, Catholic president, seemingly joined at the hip to Attorney General and brother Robert, must constantly overcome his outsider status to prove his worth. The other powers-that-be distrust his ablities - especially the military, whose leaders are always, with no exception here, portrayed as war-hungry idiots with fingers poised in anticipation over the button.

Thus, as the Soviets begin to install missile sites with nuclear capabilities in Cuba, the country is suddenly plunged into danger and no one trusts that John F. Kennedy will be able to keep the country from descending into nuclear war.

He does, of course, America still being around today and all. The interesting part is to watch just how he does it, arguing tactics with top advisers, making mistakes, winning victiories, all the while following the "West Wing" tradition of holding true to one's instincts and ideologies.

Kennedy sought to avoid letting the crisis escalate into war at all costs, constantly searching out differences strategies and outcomes, striking compromises. In doing so, the Kennedy of "Thirteen Days" is a remarkable leader, one made by the circumstances around him, an ordinary man made extraordinary - just the kind of heroes Americans love.

Moreover, what this film does so well is understate the crisis at hand. It is not too deeply patriotic. There is no sweeping score of strings to rouse national pride. The film is all too aware that it is the story of one's man struggle to prove that he is right in the face of adversity, where it only happens that the future and safety of America is what hangs in the balance. Donaldson does not get caught up in the grandiosity of this moment in history, and that allows this film to succeed where others might have failed.

"Thirteen Days" is also a triumph of performances. Most notably, Bruce Greenwood's portrayal of JFK, thankfully not too heavy on the Boston accent, ranks as one of last year's most memorable performances. Steven Culp's Bobby Kennedy matches Greenwood's president every step of the way.

An unassuming, tense film, "Thirteen Days," while it takes a rather safe portrayal of the Kennedy administration, as it lionizes some while demonizing others in rather black-and-white terms, the movie is a testament to the time-honored perservance of an America pushed to the limits of its abilities.