The General’s Daughter (1999)

The General’s Daughter (1999)
  • Time: 116 min
  • Genre: Drama | Mystery | Thriller
  • Director: Simon West
  • Cast: John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe, James Cromwell


The naked corpse of Captain Elisabeth Campbell, daughter of Lieutenant General “Fighting Joe” Campbell, is found staked out on the urban warfare range of Fort MacCallum. Army CID detectives and ex-lovers Paul Brenner and Sara Sunhill are called in to investigate, and find themselves wrapped up in a maelstrom of sexual impropriety and misguided face-saving.

One review

  • An engrossing thriller whose weak points are buoyed by an impeccable roster of talent, The General’s Daughter finds a very frisky John Travolta coming up to bat as Paul Brenner, an army investigator — the kind whose passion is justice and who carries a very big chip on his shoulder.

    Frank is called in to investigate a murder that threatens to topple some high-ranked officials. The victim is Captain Elisabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson), a woman known for her intelligence, beauty and resourcefulness. She is also the daughter of General Joseph Campbell (James Cromwell), who is retiring and who is rumored to be entering the political arena. The murder’s grisly details — the victim was found naked, spread-eagled, her hands and feet tied and held down by tent pegs, seemingly a victim of rape and strangulation — could throw a nasty shadow not only on the general’s reputation but the Army’s as well.

    And it is one or more of the Army’s boys who committed the crime. It’s just a matter of finding out which one. Maybe it’s the general himself or his unsettlingly loyal aide Colonel George Fowler (Clarence Williams III), who would do anything to protect his boss. Or Colonel William Kent (Timonthy Hutton), who may just be masquerading as Frank’s friend while manipulating the investigation to cover his own wrongdoing. Or Captain Elby (Boyd Kestner), a good-time boy whose last good time with Elisabeth Campbell may have gone a bit too far.

    Or it could be Colonel Robert Moore (James Woods), her mentor and possible lover who may have introduced her to the darker side of herself. Woods is the film’s most valuable player and the meaty scenes between Moore and Frank are glorious proof of that. Frank knows Moore’s involved somehow and Moore doesn’t have a wife, mistress or hooker to back up the alibi he offers Frank. “Does that make me a murder suspect?” he asks Frank. “No,” Frank replies, “it makes you lonely and unpopular.”

    The two men use their wiles and wits to skin each other and the exchanges between Travolta and Woods crackle with fun and a certain can-you-top-this intensity. The beauty of Woods’ reasonably restrained performance is his effete orneriness. It’s amazing what he does with a character that could have easily been played as a caricature.

    Frank’s investigation is somewhat cramped by the presence of rape investigator Sarah Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe), who also happens to be a former flame. They know all the right buttons to push to needle each other, but it’s clear there’s still a great deal of affection between them. Stowe’s grit and glamour I’ve long admired and I hope that exposure in this film will afford her more roles which showcase this unique mixture.

    Handily adapted from Nelson DeMille’s novel by screenwriters William Goldman and Christopher Bertolini, The General’s Daughter finds its slight flaw in the direction of Simon West. Actually West keeps the film well-paced — it never goes so badly awry as West’s previous effort Con Air — but why did West feel the compulsion to film a cartridge falling gracefully from the gun to the ground or the shell casings hitting the puddle of water just so? They’re unnecessary shots, which could easily have been mistaken for adverts.

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