How historically accurate is "Thirteen Days"? (SPOILERS)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ernest Aguayo, Dec 5, 2001.

  1. Ernest Aguayo

    Ernest Aguayo Stunt Coordinator

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    I just enjoyed watching "Thirteen Days" and wanted to know how historically accurate the film is.

    I know little about the Cuban Missile Crisis, so if someone could point me to a good book or website, I'd like to learn more about what really happened. Specifically, if someone could say if in "real-life":

    A U2 pilot was really killed when the U.S. was trying for more recon, or if we really did trade our missle placement in Turkey six months later in return for the USSR's removal of the missiles in Cuba,

    I'd be interested in learning about. Thanks!

    Ernest
     
  2. andrew markworthy

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    Ernest, my knowledge of American history (ulp! - I was alive when the events took place, and I knew someone who taught the Kennedy kids when they lived in London during the 1930s and 40s) isn't all that great, but I think all or nearly all the stuff in it is accurate or at least faithful to the spirit. I've a feeling that one or two bits have been exaggerated for the sake of either drama or ease of comprehension. E.g. I don't think the guy you see at the start (damn, memory lapse!) was quite as central to events as he's protrayed, but you need an 'everyman' to help the viewer follow the plot, and probably no one real person (not even JFK) could fill this role anyway. However, I think the factual (as opposed to interpretive) stuff is probably correct.
     
  3. Ken Chan

    Ken Chan Producer

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    I've heard from people who are familiar with the period that it is fairly accurate. One thing that they don't go into in the movie -- because it was only discovered much later -- is that the Soviets had tactical nuclear weapons in Cuba. So if there was an invasion, as some wanted, it would not have been pretty.

    //Ken
     
  4. WoodyH

    WoodyH Stunt Coordinator

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    With the caveat that it was a somewhat dramatized version of the events, I'm pretty sure that it's fairly accurate. After I watched it, I was so struck with the parallels between the uncertainty and fear during that period and now (I first watched it not long after the 9-11 events) that I mentioned the film to my parents. We watched it together when they were in town, and they were very impressed with the depiction of events...so I'm fairly sure it's pretty accurate.
     
  5. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    But it should be noted that White House presidential aide and Kennedy friend and confidante Kenny O'Donnell did not play any sort of significant role during the Missile Crisis. Nor did he have much of a "Boston accent"--making Costner's pathetic attempt at one all the more ludicrous.

    Yes, the president's "Excomm" group did work out a deal to "trade" the Soviet missiles/warheads in Cuba for the obsolete nuclear-tipped missiles in Turkey.

    I did think the portrayal of both Kennedy brothers was tastefully and effectively done, though.
     
  6. Mark Zimmer

    Mark Zimmer Producer

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    I know the Turkey missile swap really happened. It seems to me that the U2 pilot incident may have as well but am less certain on that point.
     
  7. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Oh, yes, definitely: a U2 pilot was shot down during a recon mission. It was feared that the incident would be all it took to make matters much worse--it rated right up there to the possibility of the Soviets charging through the blockade.
     
  8. Andy Sheets

    Andy Sheets Cinematographer

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  9. Tim Raffey

    Tim Raffey Stunt Coordinator

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    To repeat what Jack said--only because it sounds truer when more than one person says it--the U2 crashing in the USSR made Krushchev cancel (I think) Eisenhower's visit to the Soviet Union, and severely compromised all US/Soviet relations.
     
  10. Brad_W

    Brad_W Screenwriter

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    I personally enjoy watching Thirteen Days and JFK back to back! But that's me.
     
  11. Dan Paolozza

    Dan Paolozza Stunt Coordinator

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    The film was surprisingly accurate. As Jack mentioned, Kenny O'Donnell was not nearly as influential as he was portrayed, if the film is taken literally. Not much is really known as to how much the Kennedy's let on to O'Donnell at the time, and this 'unknown' makes him the best "character" to work into the film and take liberties with.
    What I gathered was that the character of O'Donnell was meant more to reflect and dramatize the inner workings/thoughts of President Kennedy's mind, for movie purposes. I was a little put off by the weight this character had until I took him from that point of view.
    But so many of the details were in there, and this really impressed me (as a history graduate, I fly off the handle with historical movies quickly. I don't give much leeway to films that walk the line of historical accuracy/dramatization and entertainment). 13 Days impressed me, despite Costner's lame acting.
    Source material? Try "13 Days: A Memoir..." by RFK and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and "One Hell of a Gamble" by A. Fursenko, T.J. Naftali
     
  12. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    One Hell of a Gamble is excellent. Great that you mentioned it.

    I was in grade school at the time of the crisis, and, even as a kid, I remember my parents being seriously worried about whether we were all going to be around for much longer. I even remember watching the president's "highest-national-urgency" address to the nation.

    Truly one of the great turning points in history.

    And don't get me wrong, I think that this film is a commendable effort. (Too, the DVD transfer is superb.)
     
  13. Steve Schaffer

    Steve Schaffer Producer

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    The film was quite accurate as far as capturing the effect of the crisis on the American public.
    I was 12 years old in 62, and my dad was a SAC pilot stationed at Travis AFB. There was little to no hope of surviving a nuclear attack when you lived 6 miles from a SAC base, we know that now. Travis is on the west edge of the valley between the California Coastal range and the Sierra Nevada.
    I remember at the time we had a 15' travel trailer for weekend trips. At the onset of the Cuban Missile crisis, my folks stocked the trailer, hitched it to the car, and hoped we could get a mountain between us and ground 0 in the short time we'd have between the first warning and the missiles' arrival. Since my dad would get the news ahead of the local civilians we hoped to get a head start. He of course would not be with my mom and brother. The trailer stayed hitched for the entire 13 days.
     

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