Directed by Roger Donaldson. Starring Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp and Dylan Baker.

An abject lesson in how to make a drama out of a crisis, the title refers to the length of time in October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world stood on the brink of destruction. Events are kick-started by an American spy plane spotting Russian nuclear missile launch sites in Cuba, meaning that all of the USA is in range should Khrushchev decide to push the red button. This is the cue for a Mexican stand-off with Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles replacing the traditional handguns.

The usual problems with bringing history to the big screen are neatly sidestepped here. Real life tends to have too big a cast for a coherent narrative, but screenwriter David Self and director Donaldson choose to focus on the Kennedy brothers, John F and Robert (Greenwood and Culp, respectively), and their aide Kenny O'Donnell (Costner). This device works splendidly as each of the three give terrific performances, managing to appear human under inhumane pressure. It is a real return to form for Costner, who underplays his role to allow Greenwood and Culp to shine and the large, complicated US political machine is distilled enough to allow us to follow the action without getting confused as to where we are or who we're watching.

Were this a typical Hollywood film the whole thing would probably have concluded with the biggest explosion of all time, but Donaldson is restricted by the facts of history – and the film is all the better for it. Other than a couple of well staged fighter flights, most of the 'action' is men in suits shouting at each other, but great performances across the board and strong dialogue means the intensity of the situation is never lost. There is the usual American jingoism to stomach and, of course, there are also plenty of opportunities for historical nitpicking. The fact that the Americans had similarly threatening missile sites placed in Turkey isn't exactly dwelled on and the Kennedy sanctioned 'Operation Mongoose' (a plan to assassinate Castro and overthrow the Cuban government) is completely ignored. But this isn't meant to be a historical document – it's just a film based on real life events. And, judged by that metre stick, it's terrific entertainment.

Pat Nugent