The General's Daughter

USA/Germany 1999

Film still for The General's Daughter

Reviewed by John Wrathall


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Fort McCallum, the Deep South. When the naked corpse of Captain Elisabeth Campbell, daughter of General Joe Campbell, is discovered staked to the ground, Warrant Officer Paul Brenner of the Criminal Investigations Division has 36 hours to solve the case before the FBI is called in.

Brenner is teamed with his former girlfriend, army rape-counsellor Sarah Sunhill. Colonel Moore, Elisabeth's commander, is arrested when his fingerprints are found on the victim's dog tags. After Moore's apparent suicide, General Campbell's adjutant Colonel Fowler is anxious to pin the blame on Moore. But Brenner and Sunhill visit West Point, where they learn that Elisabeth, a few years back, was gang-raped on a training exercise, and left staked out on the ground. Her father persuaded her to hush the incident up.

From evidence provided by Colonel Moore's boyfriend, Brenner discovers that Elisabeth persuaded Moore to help her recreate the circumstances of her rape so that she could show her father what she had been through. But General Campbell, after discovering his daughter staked to the ground, decided to leave her there. Colonel Kent, who had an unrequited crush on Elisabeth, then killed her out of frustrated passion. Brenner races to the training ground to find that Kent has deliberately led Sunhill into a minefield. Brenner saves Sunhill before Kent kills himself by stepping on a mine. Instead of hushing up the case, Brenner threatens General Campbell with court martial for conspiracy to conceal a crime.


With Con Air, director Simon West demonstrated that he could deliver a pyrotechnic action thriller in the classic Jerry Bruckheimer mould by keeping the camera constantly on the move and cutting every few seconds. He applies the same approach to The General's Daughter with rather less success, because this salacious whodunit requires very little action, but an endless parade of dialogue scenes in which assorted suspects tell the investigating duo what happened, cueing thunderous flashbacks.

In a desperate bid to pump up the action quotient (and provide material for a trailer) West throws in a succession of ridiculous climaxes, as bombastic as they are irrelevant to the plot. For starters, there's death by motorboat propeller. Later, the discovery of Colonel Moore's corpse is orchestrated, preposterously, to Carmina Burana, with baffling cut-aways to a fencing match in progress somewhere else on the base. Madeleine Stowe's role as Travolta's investigating sidekick, Sarah Sunhill, exists solely so that she can twice wander back to the crime scene at night, there to be assaulted by different suspects in the murder (though, since only one of them was actually guilty, what was the other one playing at?).

Worst of all, however, are the grotesque flashbacks to Elisabeth Campbell's rape on a training exercise at West Point, recounted in gloating slow-motion. West belongs to the school of directors who believe that everything in a film should look glossy and beautiful, even if the event depicted is itself abhorrent. He's a connoisseur of mist, low-angle tracking shots, helicopters and ejected cartridge cases cascading to the ground - but his ham-fisted deployment of these flashy clichés leaves one pining for the comparative subtlety of Tony Scott.

It's hard to see what else beyond money can have attracted John Travolta to the unrewarding role of Paul Brenner. In solving the murder, Brenner's sole act of detection is noticing a bin liner on a roof, an event which West, inevitably, tries to drum up into another action crescendo. The rest of the time, all Brenner is required to do is stare at suspects in that solid-jawed Travolta way until they tell him what they know, and launch us into another flashback. Brenner's character never develops, though he does mercifully drop his southern accent a few minutes into the film. His past relationship with Sunhill (who, as someone actually points out in the film, has no real function in the investigation: why does the victim need a rape counsellor if she's already dead?) is a bare-faced contrivance to give Brenner some substance.

The script is credited to Christopher Bertolini and William Goldman; the latter was presumably brought in for rewrites. Over the years, Goldman's two Oscars and his self-promoting handbook Adventures in the Screen Trade have given him an unassailable reputation as a script doctor; even now, nearly 30 years after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, he's one of the few screenwriters whose name the general public recognises. But his shoddy work on The General's Daughter is only the latest entry in a recent catalogue of trash: Absolute Power, The Chamber and Maverick among others. Take the characterisation of the only halfway interesting person in the film, James Woods' Colonel Moore: he has a funny way of holding a cigarette, listens to opera and is seen cooking his dinner with undue fastidiousness. Of course, he turns out to be gay! Nothing in West's overblown bag of tricks could hope to disguise such a thoroughly by-the-numbers piece of writing.


Mace Neufeld
Christopher Bertolini
William Goldman
Based on the novel by
Nelson DeMille
Director of Photography
Peter Menzies Jr
Glen Scantlebury
Production Designer
Dennis Washington
Carter Burwell
©Paramount Pictures
Production Companies
Paramount Pictures presents a Mace Neufeld and Robert Rehme production
A Jonathan D. Krane production
In association with MFP Munich Film Partners GmbH & Co 1 Produktions KG
Executive Producer
Jonathan D. Krane
Stratton Leopold
Associate Producers
Lis Kern
Anson Downes
Linda Favila
Production Supervisors
Amy Ness
Debbie Schwab
Production Co-ordinator
Robert Mazaraki
Unit Production Manager
Stratton Leopold
Location Managers
David Israel
Lisa Strout
Savannah Unit:
Laura Bryant
Assistant Directors
Steve Danton
Donald L. Sparks
Foongy Lee
Script Supervisor
Patti Dalzell
Mindy Marin
Barbara Harris
Additional Photography
Joe Maxwell
Wescam Operator
Steve Koster
Camera Operators
Robert Presley
Joe Maxwell
Richard Cantu
Mike Thomas
Steadicam Operator
Robert Presley
Visual Effects Supervisor
Glenn Neufeld
Digital Visual Effects
Visionart, Inc
Digital Effects Supervisor:
Marc Kolbe
Digital Effects Producer:
Robert D. Crotty
Compositing Supervisor:
Dorene Haver
Digital Artists:
Carl Hooper
Jeremy Squires
Jon-Marc Kortsch
Daniel Patrick Naulin
John Peel
Chris 'Willie' Williams
Dennis Bredow
Jim McLean
Archie Gogoladze
Jeremy Nelligan
Alette Vernon
Shellaine Corwel
Christina Drahos
Video I/O Supervisor:
John Campuzano
Film I/O Supervisors:
Jeff Pierce
Celine Jackson
System Administrator:
Krystal Wood
Special Effects
George Paine
Chuck Stewart
Paul Lombardi
Steven L. Dearth
Scott Blackwell
Terry Erickson
Parry Willard
Stan Bielowicz
Shop Co-ordinator:
Scott Mattson
Additional Editing
Todd Miller
Art Directors
Tom Taylor
Ann Harris
Set Designers
Lorrie Campbell
Lynn Christopher
Beverli Eagen
Set Decorator
Marvin March
Storyboard Artist
David Negron Jr
Costume Designer
Erica Edell Phillips
Costume Supervisors
Mark Peterson
Donna Marcione
Toni G
Will Huff
Savannah Unit Artist:
Joseph Hurt
Dummy Corpse
Steve Johnson's XFX Group
Production Manager:
Sean Taylor
Project Supervisor:
Christien Tinsley
Mold Shop Supervisor:
Matt Singer
Lennie MacDonald
Hair Department Supervisor:
Mark Boley
Mold Technician:
Brian Van Dorn
Supervising Hairstylist
Joy Zapata-Chavez
Geordie Sheffer
Title Design
Imaginary Forces
Pacific Title/Mirage
Music Conductor/Orchestrations
Sonny Kompanek
Folk Music Recordings Adapter
Greg Hale Jones
Music Editors
Adam Smalley
Jim Henrikson
Joe E. Rand
Barbara McDermott
Music Recorder/Mixer
Michael Farrow
Music Recordist
Paul Wertheimer
Music Technical Engineer
Norm Dlugatch
"Sea Lion Woman" (trad) performed by Christine Shipp, Katherine Shipp; "Lead Me to the Rock" (trad) performed by Wash Dennis, Charlie Sims; "Rock Island Line" (trad) performed by Kelly Pace and Group; "Say You're Mine" by Stephen Preston, performed by The Rockats; "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" by Rupert Holmes; "Love You Anyway" by Barry A. Ryan, performed by The Rockats; "All through the Night" performed by Ray Colcord; "Downstairs" by Elvin Ray Jones, performed by Kenny Burrell; "In diesen heil'gen Hallen" from "Die Zauberflöte" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by Falloni Orchestra, soloist: Kurt Rydl, conducted by Michael Halász; "O Fortuna" from "Carmina Burana" by Carl Orff, performed by CSR Symphony Orchestra and Slovak Philharmonic Chorus, conducted by Stephen Gunzenhauser; "Amazing Grace" (trad), lyric by John Newton; "Early in the Mornin'"
Sound Design
Stephen Hunter Flick
Sound Mixers
Tommy Causey
Steve Maslow
Gregg Landaker
Supervising Sound Editors
Stephen Hunter Flick
Beth Sterner
Supervising Dialogue Editor
Carin Rogers
Dialogue Editors
Susan Kurtz
Richard G. Corwin
J.H. Arrufat
Sound Effects Editors
William Jacobs
Peter Brown
Jeff Clark
Dave McDonald
Bob Baron
Supervising Editor:
Robert Ulrich
Kerry Dean Williams
Sarah Monat
Robin Harlan
Randy K. Singer
Supervising Editor:
Thomas Small
Tammy Fearing
Dana Gustafson
Scott Curtis
Jeff Payne
Aerial Co-ordinator
Craig Hosking
Military Adviser
Jared Chandler
Forensic Specialist
Gia Goyen
24 FPS Video Playback/Computer Graphics
Playback Technologies
Marine Co-ordinator
Savannah Unit:
Harris Parker
Stunt Co-ordinator
Mark Riccardi
John Travolta
Paul Brenner
Madeleine Stowe
Sarah Sunhill
James Cromwell
General Joe Campbell
Timothy Hutton
Colonel Kent
Clarence Williams iii
Colonel Fowler
James Woods
Colonel Moore
Leslie Stefanson
Elisabeth Campbell
Daniel von Bargen
Chief Yardley
Peter Weireter
Mark Boone Junior
John Beasley
Colonel Slesinger
Boyd Kestner
Captain Elby
Brad Beyer
John Benjamin Hickey
Captain Goodson
Rick Dial
Cal Seiver
Ariyan Johnson
PFC Robbins
John Frankenheimer
General Sonnenberg
Katrina vanden Heuvel
CNN anchor
Chris Snyder
Deputy Yardley
Steve Danton
Rich Jackson
bomb van soldiers
Joshua Stafford
Darius Montgomery
soldiers who finds Elizabeth
Scott Rosenberg
Jared Chandler
James Paul Morse
Paul Ware
MP guards
Mark Ivie
fencing loser
Michael Terry Swiney
lockup sergeant
Tait Ruppert
young tech
Lisa A. Tripp
work detail leader
James O. Evans
Chris Grayson
Sy Leopold
Fred Tate
sex video officers
Steve Goyen
honor guard commander
Pablo Espinosa
colour guard commander
Levin Handy Jr
Jason M. Luevano
airborne soldiers
Gustavo A. Perdomo
drill team NCO
Rodney Mitchell
Ryan D. Kirkland
ranger instructors
Michael Gerald Jones Jr
soldier in locker room
Matt Anderson
firing party commander
Cooper Huckabee
Colonel Weems
Cliff Fleming
Cris Saunders
Bruce Benson
Rick Shuster
Corey Fleming
United International Pictures (UK) Ltd
10, 480 feet
116 minutes 27 seconds
Digital DTS Sound/Dolby Digital
Colour by
Anamorphic [Panavision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011