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Thirteen Days is a 2000 film about the Cuban Missile Crisis, shown primarily from the point of view of President John F Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) and his senior advisors, including Kenny O'Donnell (Kevin Costner) and Robert F Kennedy (Steven Culp).

Tropes used in Thirteen Days include:


  Adlai: Don't wait for the translation! Answer me now!

  • American Political System
  • Anti-Air: Comes into play at two points.
    • First when the Navy begins making low-altitude photo passes over Cuba. To keep it so that the Russians did not shoot at them, the planes come back riddled with "birdstrikes."
    • The second instance is when Major Anderson is shot down.
  • Ass in Ambassador: Subverted; everyone thinks that Adlai Stevenson is too weak to stand up to the Soviets, and he initially gives this impression, but he soon proves them wrong.
  • Balance of Power: One of the main reasons not to start shooting.
  • Bay of Pigs Invasion: The Joint Chiefs, and, to a lesser extent, Kennedy, are still smarting from the backlash of this, part of why they keep advocating imidiate military action.
  • Cats Have Nine Lives: Alluded to by Adlai: "I'm an old political cat, Kenny, but I've still got one life left." Doubles as a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, due to his humble and graceful embrace of his ending political career (or at least as it seems to him and everyone at the time).
  • Cold War: Very close to getting hot.
  • Cue the Sun: In the climax, as Kenny and his wife go to bed, he says, "If the sun comes up tomorrow, it's only because of the will of good men." Cut to a shot of an exploding nuke which morphs into the rising sun the next morning.
  • Defcon Five: Averted. The alert scale is shown in the proper order. First Defcon 3, later escalates to Defcon 2.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Done at times, probably to mimic the typical images of the era.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Impending nuclear war.
  • Fake American: Canadian Bruce Greenwood playing the president of the United States.
  • Freudian Trio: Jack would be the Id, tending to act impulsively; Bobby is the Superego, leading the people coming up with the ideas, and Kenny is the Ego, cooling Jack's impulses and pressing Bobby for better solutions.
  • General Ripper: Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Curtis LeMay seems awfully eager for shooting to start. Although he's probably the most prominent example, in general the high-up military leaders are commonly depicted as Cold Warriors with an eagerness to fight a Soviet and slightly-too-itchy trigger fingers.
    • Also the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Anderson, while at the Pentagon monitoring the caro ships is at first downright condescending to his civilian boss, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. However, as Authority Equals Asskicking this gets reversed.
  • Gilligan Cut: At one point Jack and Kenny are arguing about Jack's schedule:

 Kenny: You don't show for Chicago, everyone'll know there's something going on.

Jack: I don't care! Just cancel...

Kenny: Forget it! I'm not calling and canceling on Daly! You call and cancel on Daly.

Jack: You're scared to cancel on Daly?

Kenny: You're damn right, I'm scared!

Jack: Well, I'm not!

Kenny: (Aside to Bobby) Watch this.

(Next day in Chicago)

Daly: Mr. President, we're so glad you could make it.

Jack: (Exchanging an uncomfortable glance with a stone-face Kenny) Of course Mr. Mayor, I wouldn't miss this for the world.

  • Heroic BSOD: Discussed. After an early meeting about how to react to the missile threat.

 Jack: You know they think I froze in there.

Bobby: You didn't freeze.

Kenny: You did exactly what you should've done - you stayed out of the corner. You didn't decide.

  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Kenny and the Kennedy brothers.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Greenwood would play the president again, in the second National Treasure.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The film was critized by historians and then still-living members of Kennedy's administration because the movie intensely exaggerates the role that Kenny O'Donnell played in preventing the crisis from escalating. The chief agent in the American government who pulled the administration together during the crisis was in fact Ted Sorensen, who's instead relegated to such a minor role that he's barely noticeable.
  • Hope Spot: Khrushchev sends a back-channel negotiator to probe the possibility of a deal, then sends a letter offering a way out of the crisis. Before the night is out, however, another message arrives with a much more hard-line tone that sends the situation spiraling down again.
    • Subverted, however, in that after a lot of debate and hand-wringing the Americans eventually decide that the first message was the genuine message, and the second was merely political posturing on Khruschev's part in order to satisfy his own hard liners; they ignore the second message and respond to the first, with good results.
  • Hot Line: Averted. The hot line between Moscow and Washington was put in as a result of this incident.
  • In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: Defied; despite how much the General Ripper hardliners advocated for escalation and "chicken" game theory, in the end, the more level-headed and open-minded people on both sides prevailed. Defying this trope is one of the major implied thoughts going through President Kennedy's head throughout the movie--he knows how quickly things could escalate to nuclear war, and how that needs to be avoided at all costs. The other main protagonist, near the end of the movie, notes how "the sun came up. Every day the sun comes up, it says something about us."
  • The Ishmael: Kenny's purpose is to be the guide to the audience around the White House, though he has more impact on the story than most Ishmaels.
  • It Got Worse: The last third of the movie is basically a series of these.
  • John F Kennedy: Obviously
  • Landing Gear Shot: An undercarriage shot of a B-52 taking off is used to mark when DEFCON 2 had been ordered.
  • Not So Different: Although we don't see much of the Soviet side of things, it's implied that Khruschev is having to deal with a lot of the same problems -- including a rather hot-headed faction of hardliners who are a bit too eager for shooting to start -- that Kennedy is dealing with.
  • Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: The UN. As great as Adlai Stevenson's line to Zorin was, this was mostly political posturing. If the shooting had really started, there wouldn't be much the UN or anyone else could do about it. Although it did have significant morale and propaganda impact in turning world opinion against the Soviets, they having been framing their actions as a purely defensive operation.
  • Nuke'Em: About as close as we ever came to it.
  • Pet the Dog: The Kennedys are thrown a bone by LeMay, of all people, when he agrees with their decision to hold off punitive air strikes on missile sites that have shot down one of their aircraft.
  • Sidelong Glance Biopic
  • The Sixties
  • Soviet Union
  • Tantrum Throwing: Jack has a couple scenes of this, one when he finds out someone ordered Defcon 2 without his consent, he doesn't actually throw things, but probably would have if he'd been holding something, and another when he finds out that the Russian missiles have become operational making immediate action required. He throws the report across the room in this case.
  • Thirteen Is Unlucky: Averted in this case, on the thirteenth day the missiles were decommissioned and the crisis was resolved without destroying the world.
  • True Companions: You've never understood us, your kind - we've been fighting with each other our whole lives, but nobody plays us off each other, and nobody ever, *ever* gets between us!
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