The General's Daughter (1999)
Travolta Does A Few Good Scenes
I like the pink soaps ... I like the skin softener, and I particularly like the bath beads - Paul Brenner
Alongside Scientology John Travolta and Tom Cruise have another thing in common; they've played the same character. Okay so that was lie but when you watch "The General's Daughter" the chances are you are going to end up comparing it to "A Few Good Men" as it is a military thriller with a dead body, an investigation and deep disturbing truths revealed. Not only that you have John Travolta playing Warr. Off. Paul Brenner in a not too dissimilar way to Cruise played Lt. Daniel Kaffee in "A Few Good Men", you know cocky, sarcastic and with a bit of an authority issue. And whilst there is no powerful courtroom drama in "The General's Daughter" there are the equivalent revelationary scenes as Brenner confronts those he blames for the murder. It means that whilst "The General's Daughter" is entertaining, edgy and due to the nature of the murder hard hitting it always ends up feeling an inferior attempt to match "A Few Good Men".
When the naked body of Capt. Elizabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson) is found staked out on the floor of Fort MacCallum, army CID Warr. Off. Paul Brenner (John Travolta - A Civil Action) and Warr. Off. Sara Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe - Blink) are called in to investigate who could have killed her and left her like this. With Elizabeth being the daughter of Lt. Gen. Joseph Campbell (James Cromwell), Brenner and Sunhill are not only told to solve things quickly but keep things hush hush. The only trouble is that not only does their investigation lead them to uncover Elizabeth's secret life but also a military cover up which leads them in ways they could never have expected.
Now the "The General's Daughter" is a simple movie, we have the discovery of Capt. Elizabeth Campbell found murdered, spread eagle naked, staked to the ground with a rope and knickers around her throat. What follows is Warr. Off. Paul Brenner and Warr. Off. Sara Sunhill investigating the case and discovering a lot of secrets. Those secrets start with discovering that Elizabeth was basically banging every officer on the base and lead us through various relationships, histories and military cover ups when something which happened at WestPoint becomes important. To put it simply we may have an original crime but what follows isn't and when both Sunhill and Brenner end up at the wrong end of beatings as they uncover secrets it's not a real surprise.
Even the outcome of all their investigations isn't really that much of a shock as your suspicions as to who Elizabeth's murderer could be are raised early. Thankfully Brenner's investigations do lead to some interesting head to heads and in between a lot of text book scenes we get a fascinating one on between Brenner and Col. Moore, Elizabeth's superior who is part of a unit who as they put it in the movie "try to fuck with people's heads". It's a good scene full of snappy banter as we have the two men toying with each other over their intelligence. And there is more of the same which provide a much needed injection of excitement when the investigation veers towards being so routine.
There is of course a shock factor to "The General's Daughter" as we have the subject of a woman who not only slept with a long list of men but was found staked out naked and presumably raped. It is at times shocking as is some of what we learn about Elizabeth's past but it is also visually shocking with director Simon West punctuating the drama with scenes which take you aback in how brutal they appear. Some may wonder whether the graphical nature of certain scenes is needed but for me West isn't trying to shock for shocks sake but using the graphical nature to establish character.
Now what is a bit of a miss for me is that John Travolta's performance as Warr. Off. Paul Brenner because the character seems to have two personalities. For the first half of the movie we have Travolta turning on the cockiness, he plays Brenner as cocky and sarcastic with an almost disrespect for authority. It feels very Cruise like and at times a bit cheesy to the point you half expect a bar scene to crop up for Travolta to strut his stuff. But at some point the character changes and that level of arrogance just vanishes as he becomes serious and it is a huge character shift which feels wrong. And whilst we also have a good cast which includes Madeleine Stowe, James Woods, James Cromwell and Timothy Hutton everything ends up being about Travolta and his split personality character.
What this all boils down to is that "The General's Daughter" is an entertaining movie with some very good scenes which keep you entertained. But because at its heart we have a military thriller with a murder, an investigation and a cover up it feels very familiar especially when you have John Travolta playing a cocky character not too dissimilar to what Cruise did in "A Few Good Men".
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