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The General's Daughter

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The General's Daughter

Starring: John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe
Director: Simon West
Rated: R
RunTime: 115 Minutes
Release Date: June 1999
Genre: Thriller

*Also starring: James Cromwell, Timothy Hutton, Clarence Williams III, Boyd Kestner, Rick Dial, James Woods, Leslie Stefanson

Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4

Like the superb A Few Good Men, The General's Daughter is a murder mystery that puts the military on trial and probes the rotten core of the corps. The film also similarly questions the unblinking obedience to strict codes of behaviour and disciplined adherence to "the army way" that leads to abuses.

The catalyst here is the discovery of a bound and brutally beaten body on a military base. The victim is a female officer and psychological warfare expert. She is also the only child of legendary general Joe Campbell (James Cromwell, from Babe, etc), a highly decorated officer who is about to retire from the military and take up a very high profile position in public life as a vice presidential candidate. Campbell is anxious to avoid any hint of scandal, and wants the murder quietly and quickly investigated before the FBI is called in.

Assigned the unenviable and politically prickly task is CID investigator Paul Brenner (John Travolta), who has special powers of arrest. We quickly learn that Brenner is something of a maverick, who shoots first and asks questions later, and who also has a healthy disdain for following military protocol. Assisting the investigation is Sarah Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe), a rape specialist with whom Brenner had an affair many years earlier. The pair trample through a minefield of military secrets, long buried scandals, corruption, and sordid sex that eventually leads all the way to West Point. They also uncover a list of high profile suspects that includes the dead woman's boss Colonel Moore (a wonderfully smarmy James Woods) and the general's personal aide (Clarence Williams III, from the original Mod Squad).

Based on Nelson De Mille's best selling novel, The General's Daughter is a somewhat brutal and ugly film, with an emphasis on graphic violence and sordid sex, that will do little for the image of the army. The clever and sinuous plot features a number of red herrings that will keep audiences hooked until the denouement. One suspects that veteran script doctor and dual Oscar winning writer William Goldman is largely responsible for polishing the crackling dialogue, especially the wonderful interrogation scene between Brenner and Moore which snaps with clever barbs and verbal one- upmanship.

Director Simon West (who burst onto the screen with the sensational action thriller Con Air) leaves behind the spectacular pyrotechnics and spectacular action sequences of his debut to concentrate more on character and atmosphere here. Nonetheless his direction is proficient and he maintains a keen level of suspense throughout the film.

Travolta brings a dangerous edge and rare intensity to his performance as the driven Brenner, while Stowe is both tough yet vulnerable as Sunhill. Cromwell brings dignity and class to his role as the veteran general who has devoted his life to the military. West has assembled a veritable rogue's gallery, including Timothy Hutton, Williams, and the brilliant, scene stealing Woods, to flesh out the list of colourful suspects.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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