Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The General's Daughter

John Travolta zips along on charisma alone in THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER. He plays Army criminal investigator Paul Brenner, who’s summoned to a steamy Georgia army post to investigate the brutal rape and strangulation of a beautiful blond captain named Elizabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson), daughter of the base’s commanding officer and future Vice Presidential hopeful General “Fighting Joe” Campbell (James Cromwell). The base’s military police chief Bill Kent (Timothy Hutton) assigns Brenner a partner: rape investigator Sarah Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe), an old flame of Brenner’s (“We’ll always have Brussels,” remarks the sardonic Brenner), which leaves plenty of room for the two to sling good-natured flirtatious barbs at each other while pursuing leads.

The screenplay by Christopher Bertolini and Hollywood vet William Goldman (who presumably contributed all the really good zingers) is stocked with red herrings, including Colonel Moore (James Woods), Campbell’s jittery mentor in the Psychological Operations department, where soldiers learn to “fuck with people’s minds”; Cromwell’s fiercely loyal adjutant (MOD SQUADer Clarence Williams III); the local town’s civilian police chief (Daniel Von Bargen), whose son was having an affair with the deceased; and even Gen. Campbell himself, whose relationship with his daughter was rocky and whose political ambitions could have been endangered by her promiscuous lifestyle.

For those who haven’t read Nelson DeMille’s original novel, the plot may seem confusing. Hutton’s character isn’t developed enough to carry the weight of his eventual role in the story, not enough emphasis is placed on the mystery’s essential clues, and an early subplot dealing with Brenner’s undercover investigation into an illegal arms deal should have been jettisoned (Paramount probably needed an action scene for the trailer).

Director Simon West (CON AIR) lends a slick, sweaty sheen to the entire proceedings, but doesn’t really do much more than let his talented cast sink its teeth into some juicy characters. Notice how he holds back and lets Travolta and Woods really go at one another in two scenes that are underrated career highlights for both actors. The final twist is somewhat anti-climactic and improperly telegraphed, but is handled well by the performers. Carter Burwell’s score is a standout, mixing some clever folk and what sounds like Cajun sounds into the mix.

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