THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER (1999)
Starring John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe, Timothy Hutton, James Cromwell, Leslie Stefanson, Clarence Williams III, James Woods, Daniel van Bargen and Peter Weirter.
Screenplay by Christopher Bertolini.
Directed by Simon West.
Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 121 minutes. Rated R.
The General’s Daughter is a strange, schizophrenic little picture. That’s not to say bad – in many ways it is quite good. However, lurking below a series of terrific performances and interesting moral dilemmas is a lurid little current that overturns the whole enterprise.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude and I do believe sleaziness has its place in filmmaking. But this is so at odds with the rest of the film that the whole story suffers. It doesn’t even really make sense. All the information given just turns the title character into an inscrutable mystery, thus blunting the effect of her murder. Sure, she experienced a horrible trauma, but the way she reacts to it is disturbed and disturbing.
This is only one of several curious logic gaps in the story. For example, why do the characters played by John Travolta and Madeleine Stowe (both of whom are terrific, by the way) act as if they’ve never met for several scenes before matter-of-factly acknowledging they were former lovers? Why did they have to be former lovers anyway? They didn’t get back together, just did some harmless flirting. Why not just have two strangers do that? Does it give Travolta more of a stake in protecting her? I guess, but wouldn’t he feel that for any partner?
Also, the mystery is impossible to solve because the murderer showed no predilection towards killing, and as far as we know, he had no contact with the victim. When he finally is revealed and tries to kill himself and Stowe, it is so at odds with everything you’ve seen before about him that it doesn’t quite work. Sure, you’re allowed to come up with a trick ending – but any first year writing student knows you have to at least lay the groundwork for the surprise, so the audience doesn’t feel cheated. It seems almost like they picked a solution out of a hat.
Too bad. This film was well made and raises some interesting questions, but in the end it just spends too much time in the gutter. (7/99)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©1999. PopEntertainment.com All rights reserved. Posted: July 15, 1999.