General’s Daughter, The (1999): Simon West’s Creepy, Contrived Murder Mystery, Starring Travolta and Madeleine Stowe

From Our Vaults:

Simon West directed The General’s Daughter, a creepy mystery thriller starring John Travolta in a role initially offered to Michael Douglas.

Based on the 1992 novel by Nelson DeMille, the tale concerns the mysterious death of the daughter of a prominent Army general.

Grade: C+ (* 1/2* out of *****)

While in Georgia, Paul Brenner, a Chief Warrant Officer serving as undercover agent of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division Command, masquerades as First Sergeant Frank White to broker an illegal arms trade with self-proclaimed freedom fighter.

Brenner gets a flat tire and Elisabeth Campbell, a captain in psychological operations and the daughter to Lieutenant General Joseph Campbell, the base commanding officer, assists him in changing it. The next evening she is found brutally murdered.

Brenner and rape specialist Warant Officer Sara Sunhill arrive to investigate. Elisabeth’s records indicate that her grades plummeted her second year at West Point. Brenner tries to visit Elizabeth’s house off base, but Colonel Kent declines because it’s off base.

Searching Elisabeth’s home, they find video and BDSM equipment, but an intruder attacks Brenner and removes the videotapes. Brenner questions Elisabeth’s superior officer, Colonel Robert Moore, who gives a false alibi, leading Brenner to arrest him.

At the crime scene Sunhill is attacked in attempt to intimidate her and Brenner. During the attack she notices one assailant is wearing a silver claddagh ring, and identifies him as Captain Jake Elby. At gunpoint, Elby confesses that Elisabeth was sexually promiscuous with the men, part of “psychological warfare” campaign against her father.

When Brenner, Sunhill, and Kent return to Moore’s home, they find him dead with self-inflicted bullet to the head, but Brenner doubts that Moore’s death was suicide. General Campbell’s adjutant, Colonel Fowler, attempts to close the investigation stating Moore killed himself out of guilt, but Brenner insists on continuing the investigation.

Brenner and Sunhill visit West Point’s psychiatrist, who explains that during a training exercise several cadets brutally gang-raped Elisabeth and staked her down in the same position she was found murdered.

Brenner and Sunhill learn of a cadet that came forward regarding Elisabeth’s attack. Sunhill tracks down the former cadet and tricks him into admitting his presence during the attack; feeling trapped and guilt-ridden he admits how the male cadets hated Elisabeth, since she surpassed them as a cadet.

Brennen deduces Elisabeth had Moore help her stage the attack scene so she could force her father to see the scene of the attack he covered up. Campbell states he threatened Elisabeth with  court martial due to her affairs with multiple officers, including Provost Colonel Kent. The staged attack scene was response to the general’s ultimatum. Unmoved by the staged scene, the general left his daughter tied at the scene.

At the crime scene Kent admits he was obsessed with Elisabeth and found her at the staged scene. Elisabeth, upset over her father being unmoved, dismissed Kent and spat in his face. Enraged, Kent strangled her. He also admits he murdered Moore to evade detection. Kent then commits suicide by stepping on a mine.

Brenner confronts Campbell, holding him responsible for her death–his betrayal of Elisabeth killed her years ago and her murder just put her out of misery.

Brenner informs the general they discovered the identity of the assailants with minimal effort and they face 20 years in prison. Though General Campbell threatens Brenner to keep silent, Brenner has him court-martialed for conspiracy to conceal a crime, thus ruining the general’s career.

Much of the film was filmed in and around Savannah, Georgia.

A love scene between Travolta and Stowe was cut from the final film.  Key changes were made after poor test screenings: Travolta’s character made a stronger moral stand at the end, and it became clearer at the beginning that he was an undercover military investigator.

Contrived plotting, dubious psychology, and over-the-top sequences (especially a graphically gruesome murder) not only offer little real drama, but also strain credibility on any level.

Against an estimated budget of $95 million, the film grossed  $103 million at the domestic box office, contributing to a worldwide gross of $150 million.

John Travolta as Chief Warrant Officer Paul Brenner
Madeleine Stowe as Chief Warrant Officer Sarah Sunhill
James Cromwell as Lieutenant General Joe Campbell
Timothy Hutton as Colonel Bill Kent
Leslie Stefanson as Captain Elisabeth Campbell, General Campbell’s daughter and Psychological Operations Officer
Daniel von Bargen as Chief of Police Yardley
Clarence Williams III as Colonel George Fowler
James Woods as Colonel Bob Moore and Captain Elisabeth Campbell’s Commanding Officer
Mark Boone Jr. as Sergeant Dalbert Elkins
John Beasley as Colonel Don Slesinger and Captain Elisabeth Campbell’s Psychiatrist
Boyd Kestner as Captain Jake Elby
Brad Beyer as Captain Bransford
John Benjamin Hickey as Captain Goodson