The General's Daughter
was a 1999 film, directed by Simon West. It was loosely based on a 1992 novel of the same name by Nelson De Mille.
The titular character is Captain Elisabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson), a specialist in psychological operations. She is the daughter of Lieutenant General Joseph Campbell (James Cromwell), an ambitious man with political aspirations. Father and daughter serve in a Georgia Army Base. Early in the film, Campbell's nude body is found staked down with tent poles, strangled, and presumably raped. Warrant officers Paul Brenner (John Travolta
) and Sara Sunhill (Madeline Stowe) are called in to investigate.
The investigators soon find out that they have multiple suspects. Campbell was having affairs with most officers on base. The rape, and the identity of the rapist no longer seems clear. She was into BDSM and maintained her own sexual dungeon
. But looking into their murder victim's background, they discover another mystery.
Elisabeth used to be a honor student at West Point and considered a prodigy. Then in her sophomore year, her grades slipped. She had barely graduated and seemed to be a much different person after graduation. The big reveal of the film was the reason for it. Male colleagues were frustrated at having a woman constantly besting them. So they arranged to have her beaten and gang raped during a training exercise. Her own father covered up the event, at the behest of his superiors, to spare West Point of the scandal, an act for which he was promoted.
Our investigators not only have to capture a single murderer. They also have to find out who was responsible for the rape and try to expose the high-ranking officers covering up for them. Including her own father.
The film was a moderate box office hit but a critical failure. Its political views are rather ambiguous, as the plot was less about politics and more about duty and integrity, and what happens when they are not upheld.
This film provides examples of:
- All for Nothing: One of the General's reasons for the cover up is that they likely would never be able to bring his daughter's assailants to justice, but the detectives are able to bust them all in a few days despite the trail being years old.
However, the reasons why Brenner and Sunhill were able to identify the culprits so quickly were all a result of the time lapse. Campbell's former academy psychologist only revealed the name of one of the culprits after he was distraught by being informed of Campbell's death, and the methods used to get that guy to confess and identify the other perpetrators relied on forensic technology having sufficiently developed in the intervening years to make the threat credible. It's open to speculation how successful the investigation would have been if it were carried out immediately after the fact, and if the military would be willing to break medical ethics in regard to the severity of the crime.
- But then again, the point was the military, General Campbell included, decided that their image of integrity was more important than actually having integrity. By covering up Elizabeth's rape, they preserved West Point's image, and General Campbell even got a promotion out of it. All it cost them was Elizabeth.
- Artistic License - Military: Brenner tells someone that, "you have no right to remain silent," when Article 31 of the UCMJ allows precisely that.
- In the book, it was a valid statement. Brenner told the person that he was speaking to, "You are under arrest and you are not a suspect in this crime, therefore you do not have the right to remain silent and you are required to answer my questions."
- Bondage Is Bad: Campbell's sexual practices are quickly used to establish that she had become mentally unhinged before her death. Brenner can't even stand to look at the tapes she shot, stating that it couldn't be the same woman he met a few days ago.
- Call Back: "When this whole thing began I told you that we would find the son of a bitch, Sir. I didn't expect that the son of a bitch would be you."
- Calling the Old Man Out:
- The entire reason for Campbell's undermining of her father's position by seducing most of his staff, as revenge for the cover-up of her rape at West Point.
- Subverted by Brenner in an offhand comment when questioned if he liked his own father.
My father was a drunk, a gambler, and a womanizer. I worshipped him.
- Daddy's Girl: Subverted. We're initially led to believe that Campbell was an archetypal father's daughter military brat who emulated his choosing a career in the army, but as Brenner and Sunhill discover, they viciously hated each other and evolved into mortal enemies because of him helping cover up her rape at West Point in exchange for a promotion.
- Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Col. Moore's suicide is staged so he can be used as the fall guy.
- Erotic Asphyxiation: Elisabeth got up to all kinds of kinky stuff, this included.
- Lying to the Perp: When questioning a suspect of the gang-rape, Sunhill pulls out a pair of women's underwear in an evidence bag and leads him to believe that they're Captain Campbell's DNA-evidence-filled underwear from the night of the assault. He promptly starts talking about how he tried to stop the murder, and reveals the identities of the other men involved.
- Love Makes You Evil: Kent fell in love with Elisabeth after she slept with him repeatedly, explaining that he "just wanted to be with her forever." He kills her when she rejects him, because as Sunhill explains she was too emotionally damaged to love anybody.
- Motive Rant: The killer doesn't give his until he's asked. A more eager and unsolicited Motive Rant is made by Col. Fowler, the General's adjutant, in an effort to justify the actions of the person he mistakenly believes to be the killer — General Campbell.
- Parental Betrayal: Turns out to be the key element;
Brennar: What's worse than rape?
Moore:When you find that out, you'll know everything.
- General Campbell helped cover up his daughter's rape in exchange for a promotion; he tries to justify it with protecting the honor of West Point, the base where the rape occurred, but he got another star out of it. Elizabeth could probably have recovered from the rape, as she was already smiling at her father when he came back from overseas to visit her. The betrayal was significantly more traumatic, and destroyed her.
- Rape as Drama: The mystery is mostly an excuse. Most of the film focuses on the rape(s). To the point the murder ends up dismissed as a secondary detail by several characters. As Brenner explains at the end of the film that while Kent killed Elisabeth, in a metaphorical sense her father was the true killer, as he destroyed her as a person with his betrayal.
- Rape Leads to Insanity: Subverted. It turns out that it wasn't her brutal gang rape during military school that lead to the late Elisabeth Campbell's Sanity Slippage. The betrayal of her General father, who refused to investigate the crime further because he thought they wouldn't be able to apprehend the suspects and because he allowed himself to be bought out by his own superiors, was the event that broke her mind and sent her into a downward spiral.
- Straight Gay: Col. Moore and his attorney.
- Taking You with Me: The killer deliberately steps on a landmine in an attempt to blow up Brenner and Sunhill along with himself. He's the only one caught in the blast.
- There Are No Therapists: Averted. Campbell's psychologist at West Point did all he could to help her recover from the trauma of the gang-rape and her father's betrayal. It didn't help, as she had already closed herself off to outside support by then.