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Intense, Intelligent Thrills

 


I usually can only long for movies like The General's Daughter during the hot, summer blockbuster season. With an intelligent thriller like The General's Daughter, directed by Simon West, I can even forgive the occasional explosion and graphic sexual violence.  

But be forewarned, the "R" rating is for real. The General's Daughter is not for children.  

A faithful adaptation of Nelson DeMille's best-selling novel of the same name, The General's Daughter holds up well in the translation to the big screen. The quality of the adaptation probably can be traced to the involvement of DeMille in the production. (DeMille received writing credit along with Christopher Berolini). Even knowing the plot of this clever whodunit -- or more accurately described whydunit -- did not keep me from enjoying The General's Daughter immensely. Viewers who already read the book will not be disappointed. 

A gung-ho Army investigator, Warrant Officer Paul Brenner (John Travolta), never lets his lack of formal education and sometimes unorthodox approach to finding the truth keep him from doing his job. In an inspired and very surprising bit of casting, John Travolta proves riveting and entirely believable in the role. Paul Brenner always seems to get his man -- and apparently his woman too. 

Pulling Brenner from an undercover case, the brass teams him with Warrant Officer Sara Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe), a sex-crimes expert, to investigate the death of Captain Elizabeth Campbell. Campbell was found naked and staked spread-eagle on the base's urban warfare training ground. Complicating the brutal crime further is the fact that Captain Campbell is the general's daughter. -- a grown-up, golden-haired, poster-child for women in the Army.  

Set on a fictitious southern Army base, the overheated climate, oppressive atmosphere and lush vegetation mirror the oppressive rules of the Army and the complex threads of this tangled case. What better place to shatter the genteel veneer of the military and magnolias world of honor, pomp and circumstance and show the twisted mass of jungle underneath? But the Army does not give up its secrets lightly. The military establishment never loses an opportunity to remind Brenner and Sunhill that there are three ways to go about uncovering the truth: the right way, the wrong way and the Army way. 

The film's meditation on a woman's place in the modern military seems a bit dated. But then again, how much do we really know about what goes on behind the military's closed ranks and code of silence?  

If you need a break from mindless and sophomoric summer movies see The General's Daughter -- even if you haven't read the book first. 

Shannon Scott

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