History For The Holidays

 New York Holiday
Actress Lindsay Lohan arrives in midtown Manhattan on March 17, 2007. The actress has been partying in the Big Apple all week, hitting such spots The Box, Stereo, Butter, Bungalow 8 and Plumm, where she did a stint as a guest DJ.
GETTY IMAGES/Arnaldo Magnani

CBS News Sunday Morning's John Leonard wasn't expecting it, but there's a new movie that does a good job of serving up a dramatic slice of Camelot.

The last thing I would have wanted for Christmas was another Kevin Costner movie about the Kennedys. But Thirteen Days is a harrowing surprise.

Based on transcripts of White House tapes recorded during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, it takes us back to when guys in suits and ties and guys in brass and uniforms play nuclear chicken.

This is what it looked like when Camelot's cool insolence met not only the saber rattling of the Soviet Union, and the fecklessness of Castro, but also a crazy Pentagon. What's the point of a career in the military if you don't get to play with your own toys?

Remember the U-2 over-flights and surveillance photos? Costner, as JFK's street-smart political adviser, Kenny O'Donnell, needs them explained to him by the president (played by Bruce Greenwood) and McGeorge Bundy (played by Frank Wood).

The Leonard File
Read past reviews by John Leonard.
Then, with brother Bobby (Steven Culp), they need to do something. The Joint Chiefs and Dean Acheson (Len Cariou) are only to happy to do everything, until Robert McNamara (Dylan Baker) suggests a blockade. Generals like Curtis LeMay (Kevin Conway) think they've got the president cornered. Costner seems to agree. Pentagon playfulness first wears out the president's patience and that of McNamara's (Secretary of Defense).

Adlai Stevenson (Michael Fairman) surprised everybody, especially Bobby, by talking tough at the United Nations. But it is Adlai's idea of swapping obsolete American missiles in Turkey that Bobby brokers in back-channel negotiations with a Soviet diplomat.

Thirteen Days, all of them scary, gets it right, from mind games to choosing which message from Krushchev to reply to and why this country quaintly insists on civilians in charge.

Roger Donaldson directs as if there were spiders and amphetamines in every cup of coffee at the table. We know now, from Soviet archives, that Castro at the time got so hysterical, he wanted a first strike. We know a number of things now that nobody knew then. But what continues to surprise is that these BostoIrish, instead of spoiling for a fight, figured out a way not to have one, and so we don't glow in the dark.