The season's smartest movie takes audiences inside the October 1962 White House, where there's a little bit of a problem brewing. The Americans have discovered that the Soviets have stationed missiles in Cuba, and President John Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood), Attorney General Robert Kennedy (Steven Culp) and presidential aide Kenneth O'Donnell (Kevin Costner) must fend off the military hawks who want to attack Cuba and start a war.
It seems unlikely that a Hollywood film could capture the nerve-racking tension of the real-life Cuban missile crisis without resorting to over-the-top dramatics to keep audiences interested: the president falls, clutching his heart, but somehow manages to make the call to stop the jet fighters from bombing Cuba!
However, writer David Self and director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, Species) trust viewers to follow along. They stay clear of false action and instead present a mesmerizing and historically accurate portrait of the crisis.
Self scoured White House tapes, memoirs, oral histories and CIA documents to piece together the sequence of events that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
What becomes clear is that John and Robert Kennedy -- beleaguered, outnumbered and hated by their aggressive, older military advisers -- held steadfast to their belief that peace wasn't just possible, it was the only acceptable solution.
Kevin Costner gets star billing in the film, but the movie belongs to veteran Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood (Double Jeopardy, The Sweet Hereafter), who doesn't so much imitate John Kennedy as inhabit him.
This isn't the womanizing, pill-popping president, but a shrewd and stubborn democrat who recognizes the dawn of a new age. Greenwood, who's deserved a breakout role for years, just moved up everyone's casting list.
Credit Costner for producing the film and taking the small but pivotal role of observer O'Donnell. He is so much better at playing the watchful guy on the sidelines than the leading man.