The Pelican Brief (1993) Movie Review

The Pelican Brief (1993)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler


Starring: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard, John Heard, Tony Goldwyn
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Release Date: 17 December 1993
Language: English
Length: 141 minutes
Movie Rating: PG-13
View Format: TV
My Rating: 4/5 stars


“When law student Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) writes a brief on her theory about the motive behind the assassinations of two Supreme Court justices, she finds bullets flying in her direction and turns to investigative reporter Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington) for help. Director Alan J. Pakula returns to the world of inside-the-Beltway conspiracies with this legal thriller based on a John Grisham novel.” —


This is an old-school legal thriller based on a book by John Grisham.  As with all of Grisham‘s books, there is a lengthy lead-in to the real story, but once the story gets going, the movie is really good.  I am sure that I watched this movie back in the day as I used to read all of Grisham‘s books (until I tried reading The Runaway Jury and it stopped me dead in my tracks), but it had been a really long time so I had a fun time watching it again.  The main reason why I gave it another try is that I think Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington are both terrific actors and it was a delight to see them in the same movie, even though they had few scenes together.

Julia Roberts plays a super-smart law student who gets in over her head when she writes a legal brief positing who the killer of 2 Supreme Court Justices is.  She presented a good balance between fear, determination, vulnerability and persistence.  I think that she hit all of the notes that I would imagine would happen to someone in that position who is still determined to see the truth get out there.  Denzel Washington plays a reporter in Washington, D.C. and, as a general rule, I really don’t like movies about reporters as they are too pushy and too nosy, but I liked Washington in this role.  He was respectful of his sources and had a great deal of integrity in his job so I could respect him and like him in this role.  They are definitely the leads in this movie and the others in the film are quite obviously secondary characters, but great to get to know all the same.  It was easy to keep them straight and to understand what was going on so I appreciated that.

The plot is pretty convoluted, as to be expected from the author, but I did not think it was difficult to understand.  It definitely held my interest and I found myself eager to see what was going to happen next for the last hour and a half of the movie.  This film is showing a bit of wear in the costumes, but it is not that bad and easy to overlook if you want to watch and enjoy this movie.  This movie is definitely worth your time to watch if it is on TV and is a worthy rental if you haven’t seen it yet and find yourself without any decent new movies coming out.


This movie has several scenes with a professional hit man shooting people so there is quite a bit of death and dying in the movie.  There is also a lethal car bomb, violence, some language, dirty politics, a few sensual scenes and some strong language.  Recommended for ages 12 and up.

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Filed under Drama Movies, Mystery Movies, Thriller Movies

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