Faced with the problem of how to engage viewers in a situation whose outcome and key turning points are so well-known, Donaldson and screenwriter David Self focus the film on a minor historical figure rather than the president whose name forever will be linked to the crisis. While JFK (Bruce Greenwood) and Attorney General Robert Kennedy (Steven Culp) get almost as much screen time, the story sticks to the perspective of the fiercely loyal presidential aide Kenneth P. O'Donnell (Kevin Costner) as the discovery of Russian nukes in Cuba sets off a series of confused diplomatic and military responses. The filmmakers' strategy pays off, helping to pierce the mythic quality that hangs over the iconic Kennedys and bring the piece down to earth dramatically by showing what each development means to the more ordinary O'Donnell.
Donaldson, who previously teamed with Costner on the now-classic 1987 thriller "No Way Out," generates virtually nonstop suspense by focusing on twists in the behind-the-scenes political wrangling rather than the larger drama playing out on the evening news. Greenwood ("Double Jeopardy") and Culp (who also portrayed RFK in the telefilm "Norma Jean and Marilyn") are hit-and-miss as Kennedy impersonators, but all three leading men convincingly convey the crushing pressure their characters are feeling as they face some of the toughest decisions imaginable under the scariest possible circumstances. Starring Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp and Dylan Baker. Directed by Roger Donaldson. Written by David Self. Produced by Armyan Bernstein, Peter O. Almond and Kevin Costner. A New Line release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language. Running time: 145 min.