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The Pelican Brief
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Reviews & Ratings for
The Pelican Brief More at IMDbPro »

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44 out of 60 people found the following review useful:

Good Suspense -- For the Intelligent Movie-Goer

8/10
Author: KCS82 from Virginia
25 July 2000

I enjoyed this film very much. It is well acted, and has plenty of star power, with great performances from Roberts and Washington. The story is compelling, and the cinematography lends itself to excellent suspense. However, many moviegoers (including myself) will find elements of the plot confusing and hard to follow. There are a great number of characters, and it is often difficult to tell who is who -- most of the "bad guys" dress alike and have similar hair, so distinguishing them becomes challenging. This may be a minor flaw in either casting or costume, making the characters somewhat undistinguishable. However, it also makes the plot quite intriguing, as the intelligent moviegoer becomes entangled at guessing just exactly who is associated with who, and so on. Still an excellent suspense movie -- if you like other Grisham movies (The Firm, the Rainmaker, etc.) you will like The Pelican Brief. But be warned: watch the film in an attentive state, and be prepared to think a lot. If you are a lazy, sit-back-and-relax type of viewer, this may not be the film for you.

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30 out of 39 people found the following review useful:

Hitchcock would have been pleased

9/10
Author: hylinski from Australia
23 March 2006

You gotta love Alan Pakula. His Pelican Brief is true to the source material but manages to complement it with artfulness learned from Hitchcock and the events portrayed in All The President's Men (also directed by Pakula).

The result is a thriller which never has to resort to the hackneyed or the obvious. Even the chase scene in a car park manages to be a little different.

He has casted brilliantly (perhaps Fletcher Coal should have been older?) but his masterstroke is commisioning James Horner to provide the score. At times sparse and at others boldly chromatic it jangles the nerves as Julia and Denzel duck and weave their way through a maze of unease.

A great way to spend two hours.

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43 out of 67 people found the following review useful:

The best of the Grisham movies

10/10
Author: Shrykespeare from Glendale, AZ
11 August 2004



Forget the plot holes. Forget the implausibility of the story. This is Grisham, the modern-day master of legal and political conspiracy and intrigue.

This movie centers on one thing: the chemistry between the on-screen duo of Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. And they do not disappoint. Both give absolutely stellar performances, Washington as the reporter who desperately wants his story to see the light of day but is not afraid to let his compassion show through, and Roberts as a terrified law student engulfed in a situation where she is way over her head, trying simultaneously to survive and avenge the death of her lover. There is not one scene, not one bit of dialogue, verbal or non-verbal, that doesn't make be believe everything they say, and that is a testament to the acting abilities of Roberts and Washington, two of Hollywood's best.

For pretty much the entire second half of the movie, Denzel and Julia's characters work together to find proof of the conspiracy that resulted in the assassination of two Supreme Court judges, while at the same time dodging unscrupulous lawyers, heavies and an international hitman.

In their final scene together, when Darby is taking the FBI director's private plane out of the country, the bond that has grown between her and Gray is extremely noticeable. They deplane, and Gray shows Darby the headline exposing the conspiracy. Darby smiles, shakes Gray's hand, and proceeds to walk to the car that will take her to her new location.... but no, a handshake is just not enough, not after what they'd been through... so she goes back and gives Gray a huge hug, which he returns. The mutual respect is there for all to see. No words are spoken throughout the entire scene, they are not necessary.

Having read many of Grisham's books and seen all of the movies adapted from those books, I wondered how "The Pelican Brief" would stack up against all the others in the long run. In my opinion, it is still the best of the bunch.

My score: a solid 10.

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23 out of 32 people found the following review useful:

Scary political thriller works due to good script, fine performances...

7/10
Author: Neil Doyle from U.S.A.
10 January 2007

JULIA ROBERTS is a damsel in distress when she writes a brief, theorizing what and who was behind the murder of two Supreme Court justices. DENZEL WASHINGTON is the investigative reporter who sees some merit in her theory and reluctantly decides to offer his help in tracking down the bad guys.

It's based on a terrific John Grisham thriller and given a well crafted script, good performances and taut direction from Alan J. Pakula. I'm not a fan of either Roherts or Washington, so for me to praise this movie shows you how suspenseful and entertaining it is as a thriller.

The overrated Julia Roberts is a huge box-office star who never once appealed to me despite her enormous popularity and Denzel Washington is a competent actor who sometimes does extra fine work--but neither one would win a popularity poll with me.

So, with that personal bias showing, I still give THE PELICAN BRIEF a respectable rating because it does what it sets out to do--it keeps you hooked until the ending after a few unexpected plot twists totally in keeping with this kind of story where the heroine is in peril because she knows too much.

Well worth a view.

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17 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

Everyone I have told about the brief is dead.

6/10
Author: lastliberal from United States
14 August 2007

Take any John Grisham novel and have it brought to screen, written and directed by Alan J. Pakula (Sophie's Choice, All the President's Men. To Kill a Mockingbird), and add Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington as the leads, and you have a movie that is worthy of 141 minutes of your life.

I love political films. You know that if you have read my reviews. Political thrillers are especially great. This one is well worth watching for the story, the directing, and, most especially, for the lead actors. I do not think that Washington and Roberts have ever disappointed me - OK, there was that License to Kill in 1984.

I won't synopsize - you can get that anywhere - but, I will say that you will not be disappointed. It's not a popcorn movie, you have to put some effort into watching it, but the rewards are great. And the chemistry between Roberts and Washington is fantastic!

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14 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

Star appeal lifts a good political thriller

7/10
Author: NewEnglandPat from Virginia
7 February 2006

Another John Grisham novel becomes an entertaining thriller that opens with the murder of two Supreme Court justices. A Tulane law clerk suspects that the killings are too much of a coincidence and suggests that a Louisiana oil magnate and the White House may be involved. Determined to find out the truth, the clerk's research puts her life in danger, which is clear enough when her law professor is killed. Julia Roberts spends most of the film on the run, dodging killers and murder plots. Denzel Washington is a reporter who get pieces of information from an unknown source and eventually Roberts and Washington team up to investigate the assassinations. The film has complicated twists as Roberts and Washington work together to stay out of harm's way as their investigation points its compass at the White House. The supporting cast is great as are all the tech credits and James Horner contributes a nice music score.

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20 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

Engrossing, exasperating, enjoyably silly...

7/10
Author: moonspinner55 from las vegas, nv
8 July 2006

John Grisham's bestseller becomes paranoia thriller directed capably by Alan J. Pakula. "Eager beaver" Louisiana law student Julia Roberts does some home research trying to connect the backgrounds of two Washington, D.C. Supreme Court Justices who were murdered; her theories regarding the two men--who wanted them dead and why--turns out to be scarily accurate. The brief manages to get into the hands of top Presidential aides, and soon a contract is put out on her life. Shady political business is mixed with detective yarn and a (semi) love story between Roberts and stalwart newspaper journalist Denzel Washington, who is excellent. Smoothly done commercial package, well-paced and entertaining, though exceptionally far-fetched (which parlays into the enjoyment factor). Roberts pouts too much, and her first meeting with Washington (talking in a weepy whisper) is awful, but there is chemistry between the two and they help gloss over the more nonsensical parts of the script (such as a chase through a parking garage--full of cars but no witnesses--and the ridiculous, fatuous way the writers explain Roberts' seemingly unending credit and cash flow--"I have the money my father left me"). The supporting cast is filled with recognizable character actors all playing two-faced sons-of-bitches, with the minor exception of John Lithgow doing a nicely benign turn as the editor at Washington's paper. *** from ****

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15 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

Pakula at his best....I love this movie

10/10
Author: pik923 from Las Vegas, Nevada
17 January 2008

This is just a great 'whodunit' legal thriller. Gripping, intelligent, acting is superb, the story is well constructed and builds in this beautiful crescendo. It' a huge cast and everyone is perfectly suited for their role. It moves beautifully, it flows like a movie should flow. I can't find any real flaw worth sharing. Just isn't there. I think it sets up Denzel Washington to continue in his escalating career as a wonderful character actor, a huge movie star, a big talent. Tony Goldwyn, since GHOST has this tendency to play the 'bad guy' but what can I say, he's good in this film too. Robert Culp, I love his impossible character. Julia Roberts is wonderful as the young starry-eyed law student who stumbles upon things bigger than anything she ever imagined. I loved every moment of the film. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys good solid film making. It should be used in teaching film - how to construct a story, how to keep the story one step ahead of the audience, making it suspenseful and exciting without having to resort to unnecessary violence or sex to make a movie work. It almost breaks through 'formula' scripts as suggested by the pundits who often don't have their finger on the pulse of what audiences want. It's one of the few films that when ever on television draws me in again and again and again!

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11 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

It's all been seen before

6/10
Author: Mr_PCM from Sheffield, England
11 April 2009

The 1993 film with Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington still in the formation years of their careers – so this is certainly if nothing else a curiosity piece seeing how these megastar A-listers performed before they truly reached the top. John Grisham novels will generally make for a reasonably solid if unspectacular film, with just sufficient meat for serious actors to get their teeth into, and the Pelican Brief is no exception to this rule.

When two senior judges are murdered, twenty-four year old law student Darby Shaw (Roberts) looks into the case and her suspicions somehow make their way to the FBI – suspicions that prove potentially damaging to the US government. Now she and journalist Gray Grantham (Washington) must try to stay alive long enough to ensure what they have uncovered is told to the world.

Few do distress-turned-determination better than Julia Roberts, but after a slow start followed by a great deal of panicked running and hiding, interest wanes somewhat. Meanwhile Denzel Washington is given so little to do in the first hour to the point he is almost forgotten. Further, it takes so long for us to actually discover what was written in the eponymous brief and for the leads to meet and agree to take action, that the audience's desire to get to the bottom of the 'mystery' is definitely lessened. However, once the two do start working together in the latter half interest does pick up, but not enough to retrieve the film from its ponderous start. Roberts and Washington do the job required of them but seem to treat it as little more than a day at the office – there is very little of the energy we have come to expect from Roberts, or Washington in particular. The secondary roles are filled slightly better – John Lithgow in particular a standout newspaper editor, and watch out for a very young Cynthia Nixon (Miranda from Sex in the City) as Julia Roberts' student friend. However, Stanley Tucci as one of a number of shadowy government figures on the tail of the leads should have stuck to the shadows more. There is little of the slickness, the grit and pace characteristic of later John Grisham adaptations such as Runaway Jury.

Legal thrillers about corrupt government prepared to kill to save their own position have been done so often (and so often much better) that little feels fresh about this Grisham adaptation, to the extent that were it not for the presence of A-listers Roberts and Washington this film would have long been forgotten. As it is, the film does not have enough thrills to save it from the fate of the DVD bargain basement bin. If you wanted to see this, it would probably be cheaper to buy than rent this film – and it would make a nice coaster! OK for a throwaway (literally) Saturday night film, but not memorable in any way. It's all been seen and done before.

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12 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

A Brief ring of truth

9/10
Author: benbrae76
11 September 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I haven't read this particular John Grisham novel on which this film was based, so I can't comment as to the film's faithfulness to it. I can surmise however that from reading other Grisham novels it "feels" like it might be quite close. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong.

The storyline is fairly straightforward. Why were two Supreme Court Justices assassinated? Darby Shaw, a curious law student (Julia Roberts), does a little research and writes a thesis on a possible reason. She shows it to her law professor boyfriend (Sam Shepherd), who in turn shows it to a colleague, also a lawyer (John Heard), who works for the FBI. The professor is blown up in a planted car bomb and his friend is shot dead in a hotel room. And someone wants the student dead also. She goes "on the run", and eventually turns to Gray Grantham, an investigative journalist (Denzel Washington) for help.

This is a superb "conspiracy" movie within the genre of "All the Presidents Men" and "In Defence of the Realm", and although starting relatively slowly, builds up the tension and is never dull. It has an excellent supporting cast featuring Robert Culp as the worried President (what President isn't?), with John Lithgow as Grantham's newspaper editor, British character actor Nicholas Woodeson as an assassin, and Stanley Tucci, who gave such a wonderfully chilling performance as Adolph Eichmann in the British TV production "Conspiracy", is equally pragmatically chilling here as a hit man.

There is a muted chemistry between the two leads which, like the film, (although there is a little action), never quite gets, perhaps purposely, to boiling point. It's all suitably and superbly played in a low key, which helps to maintain a sinister element to the overall development of the plot.

I suspect that "The Pelican Brief" is probably not to everyone's taste, but I personally love it, and given the oft modern corporate disregard for environmental matters, is by no means implausible, and indeed has the ring of truth about it.

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