Ossus Library Index Drama Movie Index

THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER

Directed by Simon West (1999, Paramount Pictures)
Starring John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe, James Cromwell, and James Woods

An Army investigator searches for the murderer and potential rapist of the daughter of a prominent general.

 

 

B+

March 29th, 2002 on TV

 
    An interesting mystery, coupled with decent acting and well-directed revelations.

What seems like a simple mystery is ratcheted up several notches at a time, and becomes much more complex as the movie goes on. This is the sign of a good mystery. We follow Paul Brenner as he tries to figure out the mess that this investigation becomes, and we try, as well. I certainly wasn't successful, and each revelation came as a shock to me. But Brenner is a good detective.

We know right away that there is something strange going on at this army base. From the way the officers treat Paul and his partner Sara, from the General all the way down, we know that they must be hiding something, perhaps many things.

I liked Paul, even though his fake southern accent was terrible. Thankfully, once his undercover job was done, he dropped it. The previous job met with marginal success only, as the person he was sending to jail was killed after getting wind of his real identity as a criminal investigator. I wondered if that job would come back to haunt him later, but aside from the sheriff (who kept popping up whenever he wasn't wanted), that job was completely separate, there only to show us what kind of an investigator he was. But I have mixed feelings about how successful that plot was, also. It appears that he bungled that job, but nobody has anything to say about it. And if the person who was being set up found out who he was, how? Wouldn't he have a problem with that kind of leak?

After that job is finished, he is assigned to work another case, where the General's daughter is killed, tied to stakes completely naked in a rape position, strangled to death. But there is no sign of a rape, and the whole setup seems very strange.

He visits several people on the Army base, including the general, who seems rather sympathetic, even though he also doesn't look like he's mourning. The answer to that lies in the tapes found in Elisabeth Campbell's basement, in a hidden room. Along with the bondage equipment in that room, the tapes show how Elisabeth dealt with her lovers, of whom there seemed to be many. She was having violent sex with the entire company under her father, and was an embarrassment to him. That was revelation number one, and it comes rather early in the film.

The second revelation comes with the best character in the film, Colonel Robert Moore, played superbly by James Woods. He has a great grasp on the character, and talks like a person who was really dealing with psychological warfare. He has spirited debates and discussions with Brenner dealing with Elisabeth, who worked for him. He knew about Elisabeth's many forays into the sexual world, but was not one of them. He also knows the deepest secret that nobody will speak about. His fingerprints are all over the scene of the crime, especially on Elisabeth's clothing, which is found nearby. Still, he won't give up any information, and is put in jail rather roughly by Brenner. That night, he was released from jail and found dead in his home, an apparent suicide. Talking the next day with another officer, Brenner figures out that Moore and this male officer were lovers! It all fits, with the absolute certainty that Moore had when assuring Brenner he was not on the sex tapes, to the careful dinner he was cooking when he was put in jail. I certainly didn't see that one coming!  Brenner is convinced that Moore was killed; he did not commit suicide.

Brenner and Sara get the medical records that say Elisabeth did really well in her first year at West Point military academy, but then had a terrible second year. Speaking with the psychologist seems to yield nothing, but upon finding out that Elisabeth was killed, he manages to "talk to himself", revealing lots of information. It turns out that Elisabeth was gang raped in a field exercise one night, left outside in the same way that she was found murdered on the army base. The entire incident was covered up, and the general helped cover it up. Elisabeth went downhill fast, both in marks and in personality. No wonder she had bondage exercises with all the men on the base, and was forever trying to get the general's attention.

The third big revelation comes when Brenner is told to close up the case. All the top officers say that Moore obviously did it, since his fingerprints were all over the place, and he shot himself. It is never clear who shot Moore. I thought it was Fowler; he was certainly suspicious, but it could have also been the actual murderer. Elisabeth conspired with Moore to tie her up naked like she had been when she was raped. She called her father, to try and prove to him that what she had experience actually happened. He showed up, but refused to be part of it. He drove off, without even untying her. When Fowler showed up to "clean up the situation", she was already dead. Fowler thinks the General killed his daughter, but will cover it up at any cost. The General's face when Fowler makes this known is priceless, and it is obvious that he didn't do it.  But suddenly Fowler's attitude makes sense!  Brenner figures out that another officer, who was helping him with the search, was the likely murderer.

His insight serves him well, as the man has already taken Sara out to a minefield, and is ready to kill them all. Brenner arrives, but I wonder how the man knew Brenner had figured it out. After all, he was scheduled to leave that very day. The man ends up killing himself, but Brenner manages to save Sara. But before he does that, he confesses everything, how he loved Elisabeth, but she just wanted him for sex, and how she was stupid enough to make extremely rude and angry gestures when being tied up naked, so he could have taken advantage of her any way he wanted to, as is more likely, given the situation. Instead of taking pleasure from her, he strangled her in his rage at being rejected. There was no reason for him to really confess to the murder, but I suppose that he was just too full of rage and guilt to keep quiet.

Sure, there were plenty of plot holes, but the movie was well made. The biggest thing that I would change would be the use of complete confessions by people. It didn't matter who it was, whenever a confession or description of the past came up, we cut to a flashback, and the whole story was told in one shot. Maybe it would have been better if Brenner started explaining it to Sara, or the other way around, giving a summary of what the interviewed suspect said. It just seems that everybody was reluctant to talk, and then, when threatened a little, opened up in a gush of information. There has to be a better way.

The other thing that I didn't like was the smugness the producers had when things went their way. The scene where this is most obvious is when Sara interviews the soldier in the men's locker-room. That was a lot of fun, especially his ego-trip turned sour. But when she throws the panties away in the garbage right in front of him, telling him these were not Elisabeth's, it was a pretty dumb move. Sure, he had already confessed, and it was fun to watch him realize that he had confessed without a real threat, but in reality, she could have easily been killed for doing that, even if she was an officer of the law. In a fit of rage, this man could have jumped at her. It would have been better for her to wait until she was clear, especially after the attack made on her on the army test grounds the night before. You would think she would be more cautious.

But other than that, the characters were interesting, the mystery was interesting and mysterious, and everyone was suspicious, for good reason. Everybody had something to hide, but almost none of it pertained to the actual murder. I liked the brave face that Brenner put on when charging the General with negligence resulting in death by leaving his daughter there, and by setting up the whole situation by covering up the rape back in her school. I wondered if it was foolhardy, but the text that finishes up the movie says otherwise, since the General was court-martialed. Going into this movie, I had reservations, mainly because of John Travolta. But he did a good job, as did the others. There was enough going on, enough clues and revelations, to make the movie worthwhile.
 
   

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