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|THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER
Starring: John Travolta
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Rating: Rated R for sexual violence, rape,
Video Release: 14 December 1999
Tagline: "Go behind the lies."
On the one hand it's an action thriller. Plenty of graphic violence, stylized photography, and a good olí murder mystery to entertain the masses. But, on the other hand, it attempts to raise consciousness with psychological games involving sexism, betrayal, corruption, ethics, and honor. Like one of the characters stated: "There are infinite shades of moral grayness in human behavior." Indeed, The Generalís Daughter is filled with areas of gray.
Set in the humid swamp base of Fort MacCallum GA, John Travolta plays Paul Brenner, a Criminal Investigation Division officer who teams up with rape investigator, Sara Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe) to investigate the bizarre death of Captain Elisabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson). There's an abundance of suspects including the victimís father, Gen. Campbell (James Cromwell), his watchdog, Col. Fowler (Clarence Williams III), the provost marshal, Col. Kent (Timothy Hutton) and the officer in charge of psychological operations, Col. Moore (James Woods).
The biggest problem with The Generalís Daughter is its inconsistency. Inconsistency in plot...editing...characterization.... Take for example, the first thirty minutes. Intriguing sequence of events where Brenner sports a bogus country-fried Southern accent while investing an illegal arms sale. Visually, it is moody and stylish but if I had written this act, the response from a hundred critics would be: "Enjoyed Act I -- but what does it have to do with rest of the script?" It appears when your name is William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) who co-wrote this movie, you donít deal with such questions. Not to take anything away from Goldman (author of many fine scripts), but the first half hour was like watching a different movie all together.
Inconsistency in editing? Not always. There's a wonderfully edited scene in which the two CID officers and Col. Kent come to the home of Col. Moore. The bloody cat paw prints on the window to the dramatic score, as they race through the house, intercut with images of the other "suspects." Loved it. But unfortunately, this is the exception and not the rule. There are many abrupt narrative and visual transitions which stagger the pacing and flow of the overall film; including poor continuity errors (soldiers who move from a carís path not once, but twice). A trivial point but its such inconsistencies which any student in Editing 101 would get a demerit for.
Inconsistency in characterization? Perhaps I should have stated "lack of characterization." Travolta plays to the camera in this film. Heís the flavor of the month and heís enjoying it. Nothing wrong with that. But his character of Warrant Officer Brenner leads to many unanswered questions: What is that big chip on his shoulder? What was his relationship with Sara and why isnít it developed further? Why is he considered to be "very clever" when most of his investigation work consists of beating up suspects and coming off very arrogant to his alleged superiors?
The character of Sara Sunhill? Sheís the typical sidekick, filling the passenger seat of Brennerís car; not a whole lot more. She has one saving grace scene where she questions an Army captain in a locker room and gets the answers she needs, with a little deception, thanks to a new pair of panties and recent DNA breakthroughs.
The others? Cookie cutout stereotypes. James Cromwell never breaks from his detached quintessential military man demeanor, his aide appears like he has a serious case of hemorrhoids, and Huttonís motives are never fully understood. Possibly the only well conceived character was portrayed by James Woods who plays little games of psychological warfare with Brenner (ala Clarice and Hannibal Lecter).
I sum up The Generalís Daughter this way. Itís A Few Good Men -- without the star power and crisp dialogue. Itís Courage Under Fire -- without the superb shifting of POVís told via flashback. Itís Casualties of War -- without the distress of betrayal and the horrors of rape.
Itís a coin toss. Give it a 3.
© Terrence J. Brady
The ratings for "Pan & Scan" are broken down into a simple 1-5 scale as follows: 5 = "Forget renting it - BUY IT!"; 4 = "Definite Must Rent"; 3 = "Coin Toss" (Rent it OR wait for cable); 2 = "Wait For Cable"; 1 = "Ignore It!" (Even when it's on network TV).