Click here 3 and a half stars
Generally Thrilling
John Travolta leads an excellent cast
in a military-based who-dun-it

James Cromwell

"The General's Daughter"

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)

The United States Army is, in many ways, a cult in the eyes of us civilians. Think about it: People dress the same, address civilians with courtesy and respect (for the most part), engage in a life governed by a rigid code of morality and when threatened, protect their own. At least they don't hand out flowers in airports.

Leslie Stefanson, John Travolta"The General's Daughter" looks at that code in a critical manner. Paul Brenner (John Travolta) is a member of the elite Criminal Investigation Division, a branch of the Army that investigates crimes committed on military property and/or by military personnel. He is brought into an investigation when a beautiful female officer (Leslie Stefanson) is raped and murdered in a particularly brutal fashion. Another investigator, Sara Sunhill (Madeline Stowe) who, as it so happens, used to be intimate with Brenner, is brought in to be a partner to the reluctant Brenner.

Madeleine Stowe, Timothy HuttonAlso, as it turns out, the beautiful officer is the daughter of the base commander, Gen. Joseph Campbell (James Cromwell). Campbell is getting ready to retire from the military, with an eye toward a political career. So the intrigue is sky-high, with a smarmy MP (Timothy Hutton), an edgy psych officer (the always-excellent James Woods), and a guilty-looking assistant (Clarence Williams III) lurking about the edges.

At the risk of giving away too much, two elements of the military are under the microscope here: the Army's attitude towards women, and the Army's attitude towards cover-ups. I can kind of understand the latter; in order to be effective, an armed force must have the respect of not only those who potentially might oppose it, but also of those it defends as well. The U.S. Army doesn't like to appear vulnerable or mistaken. It takes steps to protect its reputation almost as vigorously as it takes steps to protect this nation.

Of course, that can lead to several gray areas, morally-speaking. While instances as far out into the gray as "The General's Daughter" are extremely rare (although the Navy's Tailhook scandal comes to mind), the fact is that the potential for these kinds of shenanigans exist. Perhaps that's why this movie is so effective.

DVD notes

It's nice to see a fully-loaded DVD that is NOT a "collector's edition" or some such nonsense that carries an unreasonable price tag. Here you get -- along with the usual interactive menus -- widescreen version, scene selection and trailers, a behind-the-screens feature, commentary by director Simon West and four deleted scenes, including an alternate ending that I think personally works better than the one they used.

Travolta has in the past few years become a real fine actor, his "Saturday Night Fever" days notwithstanding. He plays a man walking through a moral minefield being forced to choose between what he knows is right and the good of the Army, and it's not an easy choice by any means. He has a spectacular supporting cast; Woods and Cromwell shine, and Stowe, Hutton and Williams are all excellent as well.

"The General's Daughter" is not always an easy movie to watch, although as thrillers go, it's top-knotch. The solution is not what I expected, and it made me think long after the lights had come up in the theater. That's a lot more than you can ask out of most thrillers these days.

Theater or Video?
Although some of the helicopter shots cry out for the big screen, for the most part it looks just fine on the small one.

DVD at
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See cast, credit and other details about "The General's Daughter" at Internet Movie Data Base.