George W. Bush: Kevin Costner
Colin Powell: Usher
The Hainan island incident, an international crisis that brought the then United States and the then People's Republic of China to the brink of nuclear war 37 years ago, was the crucial, heart-stopping foreign policy test of the second Bush administration. As Chinese communists imprisoned a US Navy air crew and the two nations squared off in the western Pacific, Americans crammed into fallout shelters and prayed that their "Star Wars" missile defense shield would hold up. People around the globe were gripped by mortal panic. The world held its breath.
Eleven Days recaptures these tense moments of the Second Cold War with remarkable fidelity and the panache of an old-fashioned international thriller. Some historians have objected that the "George W. Bush" character played by Kevin Costner was in reality a minor figure in the crisis, and was not present at any of the important meetings depicted in the film. Maybe so, but only the ever-youthful Costner, a Hollywood perennial whose films have lost trillions of dollars over the years, could have given the film such singular focus, with a likable everyman as the audience representative.
Of course, these days the administration of George W. Bush is viewed as a time of great innocence and optimism for our country, "The Alamo" to a previous Presidency's "Camelot." All that hope was shattered on that tragic day in Dallas, when W. Bush, distraught over the Wang Zhizhi incident, "fell off the wagon" and defecated into a serving tray during a state dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Alberto Fujimori.
In paying tribute to that forward-looking era and the strength of character of its leaders, Eleven Days really excels. Here we see how President Bush II not only stood up valiantly to the out of control madman Jiang Zemin, but deftly kept the hawkish leaders of the US armed forces and his own administration under control. As presented in the film, the Bush administration was truly a family affair, with brothers Neil and Jeb, father George Herbert Walker, even daughter Jenna, providing moral support and confidential advice to the President.
That support proved valuable in keeping the fragile administration and defense team together. One scene, in which Vice President Dick Cheney collapses to the floor of the Oval Office during a tirade about the danger to Halliburton Energy's South China Sea oil wells, is particularly touching, as Bush pere compassionately applies a defibrillator to his old friend's scarred, naked chest.
Director Power keeps the tension high, cutting between scenes of American and Chinese pilots exchanging warning shots and email addresses, and Oval Office scenes that are just as tense though less action-packed, as the President must master the tricky "third tone" of Mandarin Chinese in order to deliver his non-apology apology convincingly. A bravura sequence in which Secretary of State Colin Powell parachutes into Beijing's Forbidden City, punches the Chinese president in the nose, and escapes unseen by leaping over rooftops, contains some of the best wire work seen on American screens in recent years.
For Ashley Power, this material has a personal resonance. "My stepdad was shooting me in a pajama party sequence for Whatever I remember we were arguing over my costume when I got a message on my DoCoMo. It was my friend Skye saying that the might evacuate LA. It was like, all of a sudden everything else seemed so insignificant."
Whatever objections historians may have with the film's specifics, everyone will enjoy the level of period detail throughout the film. Here all the characters communicate with Palm Pilots and drive Ford Explorers while listening to Eden's Crush and keeping up on the plot of Survivor II.
Although few of us would return to those dangerous and tension-filled days, Eleven Days made this viewer feel nostalgic for the high-caliber leaders the troubled times produced. It's hard to imagine President Timberlake handling a crisis with the same strong will and flexibility of mind, even with his former band mates to assist him. These days, as we fly into George W. Bush National Airport, drink George W. Bush bottled water, and visit the George W. Bush Museum of the Environment, it's easy to see the century's first President as a remote, monumental figure. With a deft script and uniformly strong supporting actors, Eleven Days shows Bush's human dimension, and reminds us that we live in a safer, more stable, more prosperous world thanks to the courage, character and vision of President George W. Bush.
Courtesy of the Addison DeWit
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