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13 Minutes review – tornado movie with plotting as catastrophic as the weather

Disaster film serves only to highlight that petty human dramas seem insignificant compared with the global climate crisis

Irrelevant problems … Thora Birch in 13 Minutes. Photograph: Brett Deering/Thirteen Minutes LLP

Given the increasing frequency of extreme-weather-related catastrophes, you’d think there would be more disaster films out there like this effort, which has a massive tornado hitting middle America at the centre of its drama. That said, the way director Lindsay Gossling – who wrote the screenplay and co-wrote the story with Travis Farncombe – sticks closely to the traditional templates of calamity cinema may explain why there are relatively few such movies. In the end, the problems of the characters whose lives are interrupted by natural catastrophes seem small compared with the scale of the destruction. And on a grander scale, the melodramas at the heart of films like this seem trivial when we take into account climate crisis on a global scale. Is it really so important if a man survives his car being overturned when the fate of Earth is at stake?

What’s more, like so many other film-makers, Gossling can’t resist playing God and loading the dice so that in the final reckoning, it’s mostly the bad people who are punished, and the good survive, albeit with injuries, while tricky problems are solved by weird misfortune. Case in point: the subplot here about a young woman, Maddy (Sofia Vassilieva), who spends most of her time before the tornado hits worrying about her unwanted pregnancy. The radiographer who examines her, overbearing Christian Tammy (Anne Heche), unprofessionally tries to talk her into keeping the child. Later, Tammy and her farmer husband Rick (Trace Adkins) react with homophobic panic when their son Luke (Will Peltz) comes out to them. But once the twister devastates the town they live in, the injuries meted out will make some of these problems irrelevant.

In one respect, the film differs from disaster flicks of an older generation in that less time and budget is spent goggling at the destruction – which lasts for the titular 13 minutes – than on looking at the aftermath of smashed homes and businesses. It’s as if the whole town had been turned to landfill in under a quarter of an hour. Nevertheless, the production values are a bit too pedestrian to elevate this much above the ordinary.


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