The General's Daughter
Its been a long time since I saw a really good whodoneit. Finally, one has come along that works. While many critics panned this film, The Generals Daughter comes across as a taut, adult mystery. Co-written by the novelist, popular mystery writer Nelson DeMille, the story line is involved but worth paying attention to the details. The story is set for the most part on an army base that specializes in urban warfare. A captain in the psych-corp, the daughter of a well know General, is brutally murdered and mock-raped. Assigned to the case are two Warrant Officers from the CID, Criminal Investigation Division, Paul Brenner (John Travolta) and Sara Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe). What unfolds is a mystery with plenty of twists, turns and even some surprises.
Travolta once again proves that he can handle almost any role that he undertakes. He is almost a military version of Columbo, slightly unkempt, always asking another question and far smarter than most people think he is. Travolta has some action scenes in the film but he has the good sense to realize that he is no action hero. A bit overweight, he has enough still going on for the ladies to watch and comes across as average enough for the men to appreciate. He commands the screen during every shot he is in. Madeleine Stowe remains one of the best, under-rated actresses in the business. She exudes a low-key sex appeal while projecting intelligence and poise. Rounding off the cast are a group of terrific actors including James Cromwell as the General, Clarence Williams III as his aide, James Woods as the superior officer of the ill-fated daughter and Timothy Hutton as the head of the MPs. Leslie Stefanson, a relative new comer but one that shows great promise play the daughter Liz. Fortunately, although she is killed off early in the film, flashbacks offer a better look at this talented actress. Each performer adds dimension to their roles and helps the audience become draw deeper and deeper into the tale.
The director, Simon West, does not have many films to his credit, Con Air is probably the best known, but he does a great job in this film. Pacing is critical in any mystery. Letting just enough information out to the viewer to keep them watching but not so much as to ruin the ending. West keeps the pace moving. He develops the back-stories well between Brenner and Sunhill but does not force it upon you. He avoids the rookie mistake of characters that supposedly know each other have to recount their lives to each other. West balances keeping your interest with a touch of reality. The framing of each shot is carefully considered and lit to perfection. This is no easy task considering many of the shots take place in the rain at night. The musical score is off beat and adds to the mood and pacing nicely. I look forward to future films by this director.
This film scores high on the extras. Simon West provides an insightful commentary. There are four deleted scenes and an alternate ending. There are also behind the scenes and interview featurettes to round things out. The sound is excellent, up to Dolby 5.1 standards. The use of the rear speakers provides a good depth to the sound field. The video transfer is also top shelf, this being a feat consider the darkness that is used in many scenes. The details and view of the rape victim is very graphic and went a long way to getting this film bumped from PG-13 to R. Parents be warned, this is an adult mystery, send the kiddies off to bed before viewing. Recommended as good entertainment.