Chief Warrant Officer Four Paul Brenner (John Travolta), a Vietnam War veteran of the 196th LIB, is in Georgia, masquerading as First Sergeant Frank White, at a local Army base, to broker an illegal arms trade with a self-proclaimed freedom fighter. Brenner is actually an undercover Army CID Agent. Part of his character’s disguise is speaking with a strong Southern accent. While on the base, his car gets a flat tire. He is on the side of the road trying to remove the wheel nuts with a small pair of pliers and not having much success when a pretty young officer arrives and helps him change the spare with her cross brace (lug wrench). The officer is Captain Elisabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson), the base commanding general’s daughter and herself an Army captain in psychological operations. The next day Brenner calls in to see her with a basket full of scented candles and bath soaps as a thank you to her for her help. Both times he is in contact with her, he is keeping up the pretence with the Southern drawl. Elisabeth is, at first, warm to him, but after a few minutes of conversation, she becomes cool and distant, saying she has a lot of work to get through. The next evening, she is found murdered. Brenner and another warrant officer, Sara Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe), who is also a rape specialist, are brought in to investigate, as both are part of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command. At the scene, the base Provost Marshal, Colonel William Kent (Timothy Hutton), and several of his military police have secured the area. Captain Campbell’s nude body has been staked down with tent pegs, strangled, and presumably raped. Colonel Kent has 2,000 military police of whom he is in charge at the base, and he is considered both the police chief and the staff officer who advises Captain Campbell’s father, Lieutenant General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Campbell (James Cromwell), a highly respected and very popular general officer who was Brenner’s Commanding Officer in Vietnam, on all military police matters. Brenner and Sunhill search Elisabeth’s home off base and find it typical of a career Army officer, with one exception: through a false door in the basement, they find what appears to be a sexual dungeon of sorts, with handcuffs, harnesses, and a camera connected to a VCR. Sunhill goes to their car to make a call from her cell phone, and while Brenner gathers the tapes, he is attacked by a masked figure armed with a steel snow shovel. The culprit manages to disorient Brenner long enough to steal the videotapes. Brenner questions Elisabeth’s close confidante, Colonel Robert Moore (James Woods), who also works in psy ops. Though cordial and somewhat cooperative, Moore is evasive when questioned, and gives an alibi of being in bed asleep at the time of the murder. However, this proves false when Moore’s fingerprints are found on Elisabeth’s dog tags; these were found in a plastic trash bag several yards from her corpse, along with her clothing. Brenner arrests Moore on charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and impeding a criminal investigation and takes him to jail. Whilst Brenner is arresting Moore, Sunhill returns to the location Elisabeth’s body was found to record more notes. Suddenly she is aware of movement from a handful of shadows but as she tries to reach her car she is knocked roughly to the ground by 4 men who verbally threaten and give her a message for Brenner. They dash off as quickly as they arrive but before that Sunhill notices the main assailant wearing a silver claddagh ring. Back at the jail, the officer in charge later releases Moore and places him in house imprisonment. But when Brenner, Sunhill and Kent later return to Moore’s home, they find Moore dead on his couch with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to his forehead. The General’s adjutant, Colonel George Fowler (Clarence Williams III), attempts to close the investigation at the crime scene, stating that Moore killed himself out of guilt because he killed Elisabeth. Brenner states he intends to keep the case open and much tension is seen between them. Further cover-ups are revealed, and it is later learned that Elisabeth was sexually promiscuous with virtually all the officers that made up her father’s staff. It is also revealed that Elisabeth was an honor student at the West Point Military Academy until her sophomore year and barely managed to graduate. Brenner and Sunhill visit Colonel Dr. Donald Slesinger (John Beasley), the Academy’s psychiatrist, who explains that Captain Campbell had been gang raped by fellow trainees while a cadet at West Point. During a large training exercise of around 1000 personnel, she had found herself separated from her group and was jumped by six male cadets, beaten and raped all night, almost to the point of death and left to die in an isolated area—staked down in exactly the same manner in which she was murdered. Luckily, another trainee group, which had gotten lost, had found Elisabeth and rescued her. Elisabeth never knew the names of her assailants, but Sunhill tracks down one of the attackers, staying at Fort Benning and engineers a confession by telling him the advances in DNA technology mean his “gene prints” are traceable. She pretends that the bloodstained underwear she shows the soldier is the genuine article. The agents pay a visit to the general, who corroborates the story. Fearing that the assailants would never be caught, Campbell acted upon the advice of another general and decided to cover up the incident since such a scandal would destroy the Academy, not to mention his own ambitions to become Vice President of the United States. This denial of justice severely traumatized Elisabeth, causing her to partake in various violent sexual activities. Campbell reveals that he did encounter his daughter the night of her murder, and that Elisabeth herself, with the aid of Moore, staged the reenactment of the academy incident in an attempt to force her father to face the truth he covered up. Unmoved, Campbell instead left his daughter tied to the stakes. Realizing that Kent is the only suspect left, Brenner decides to question him. He calls Sunhill but learns that she was returning to the murder scene with Kent, who also wants to see Brenner. Brenner arrives and confronts Kent, who admits that he killed Elisabeth after she rejected him and threatened to tell his family about the affair. Kent then commits suicide with an anti-personnel mine. Parallel to these events, Brenner and Sunhill manage to invalidate Campbell’s reasons for the cover up by swiftly discovering and arresting all of his daughter’s assailants. (The charges they face guarantee a minimum of 20 years in prison.) As Campbell prepares to get on the plane to accompany Elisabeth’s body to the funeral, he is confronted by Brenner, who lays the burden of his daughter’s death on the general; disgusted, he tells Campbell that his betrayal of Elisabeth was what had really killed her and that Kent had just put her out of her misery. He then tells Campbell he will be court-martialed for conspiracy to conceal a crime, thus ruining the general’s career and dashing his political hopes. The film ends with a montage of Elisabeth’s happy childhood and Brenner and Sunhill departing in opposite directions and an admiring glance by Sunhill at the departing Brenner. A written epilogue explains that Campbell is indeed court-martialed for the crime and found guilty, disappearing from public life soon after.
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