The General’s Daughter Review

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Cpt. Elizabeth Campbell, the brilliant and beautiful General's daughter is found dead and naked in the centre of the army camp. Brenner and Sunhill are sent in to investigate and uncover a shocking story of gang-rape, cover-up and the General's refusal to put his daughter's welfare above his political career.


Following the lean, sensible legalities of A Civil Action, Travolta dons a creased tan suit, effects slovenly machismo and creates a weighty centre for this potty military murder mystery. Adhering to all the classical whodunnit tenets, this is Miss Marple with big boots on as military CID investigator Paul Brenner (Travolta) is on-hand to divulge the killer of beautiful, brilliant Captain Elisabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson), daughter of revered General Campbell (James Cromwell).

Set on the fictitious Fort MacCallum and shot in Savannah, Georgia, the format is simple: a horrific rape and murder on the base allows the army’s own investigator to follow the clues, which - ber-ding! - all lead to far more than they ever imagined.

Simon West, the not untalented Brit who turned up the volume for Con Air, delivers it all with an easy slickness that befits a big Hollywood production, evoking a taut, sweltering atmosphere in the compound and shooting the flashes of action with a skilled hand. Travolta too is in good form. Brenner is an unusual combination of sharp mind, deprecating humour and overbearing brutality and is allowed a cutely underplayed sexual frisson with fellow investigator Sarah Sunhill (Stowe). And there’s an enigmatic James Woods stealing scenes as an oddball military shrink who spars deliciously with Brenner.

But what should be powerful and stirring is just plain ridiculous. The script (to which, believe it or not, William Goldman lent a hand) lurches between logic-defying plot developments and shameless, giggle-inducidng big speeches which are obviously designed to build some all-American heart.

By the time the bulb flashes above Brenner’s head and the perpetrator is sussed (it’s about 50 per cent guessable) the story has wound itself up to such a twisty turny extent, tying in all the suspects on some level and establishing such a bafflingly, deep-seated motive (clue: this girl was hardly the apple of daddy’s eye), it’s hard to actually give a monkey’s who done it. Any ironic inflections toward the American military or intelligent feminist comment (you know, women as soldiers and all that) is lost in the muddle.

So many twists and turns that any intended message about women in the army gets lost in the muddle.

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