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Movie Review

General Campbell's daughter, Elizabeth, is dead. Her nude body is found spread-eagle, limbs tied to stakes driven into the ground. It appears she was tortured and raped before strangulation ended her life. But not all is as it appears. Warrant Officers Brenner and Sunhill set out to find the truth. But the truth is even uglier than they are prepared for. Seven years before her death, Elizabeth is gang-raped as a cadet at West Point. Her father asks her to forget it ever happened and not report the crime for the sake of the Army's reputation. That betrayal, coupled with her physical violation, drives her into a seedy double life. By day, a competent officer, by night a slave to her own perverse drive to participate in sadomasochistic sexual rituals. A secret room in her house contains an array of bondage paraphernalia, sex toys and homemade videos of her and her consorts. She has set out to hurt her father for turning his back on her by drawing men under his command into her hideous sexual world.

Positive Elements: The horror of rape and its long-lasting psychological ramifications is felt deeply in The General's Daughter. But that message is muddied by explicit portrayals (see below). The importance of a father's love and support in such a crisis is strongly evident in the face of Campbell's inability to give it. Brenner and Sunhill fight for truth and justice even at the expense of their careers when the General orders them to sweep the matter under the rug.

Sexual and Violent Content: Intense portrayals of rape repeat throughout the film. The footage of Elizabeth being gang-raped is gritty to the point of nausea. She is shown nude in that scene after her clothes are ripped from her body. Full frontal nudity is again shown before and after she is found dead. Letting the cameras linger on the woman's nude body before, during and after she is raped and killed exploits the very atrocity the filmmaker seems to condemn. Elsewhere, a man is shown nude from behind while taking a shower.

Several times Brenner beats the men he questions. Early in the film, a gun-runner for a paramilitary group comes to Brenner's living quarters and opens fire with a machine gun. The fight that ensues includes more gunfire, hand-to-hand combat and a knife fight. The man is gruesomely killed when Brenner forces his head into the whirling blades of a power boat propeller. The scene lingers as blood sprays and the water turns red. Sunhill is assaulted at the scene of the crime, threatened with rape to teach her a lesson, then beaten. Colonel Moore kills himself with a bullet to the head. When investigators find him, he is sprawled on his couch, dripping with blood. Again, the cameras linger on his mutilated head with grim fascination. The man who killed Elizabeth blows himself up with a landmine.

Crude or Profane Language: Close to 30 f- and s-words. In all, more than 60 profanities litter the script. Several uses of the f-word (including m-----f-----) refer directly to sex acts.

Drug and Alcohol Content: A wine toast is given at the General's retirement. Brenner and Sunhill go to a bar where others are drinking, but the pair orders only water and tonic.

Summary: Over the past few years, movies have begun showing violent crime in much grittier detail than in the past. Splashing intimate scenes of assault, rape and murder on the big screen has become "acceptable." Also disturbing is that more and more filmmakers are deciding to show "dead" bodies in the nude. The General's Daughter follows these new rules of ultra-realistic portrayals to the letter. Such graphic depictions of physical violation and death can gradually lull our culture into thinking of such atrocities as mundane. Or worse, invigorating. Staged or not, such images damage those watching.

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John Travolta as Criminal Investigation Division Warrant Officer Paul Brenner; Madeleine Stowe as his partner Sara Sunhill; James Cromwell as Lt. Gen. "Fighting Joe" Campbell; Timothy Hutton as Col. William Kent; Clarence Williams III as Col. Fowler; James Woods as Colonel Moore


Simon West ( )


Paramount Pictures



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Steven Isaac

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