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The Pelican Brief (1993)


Average Rating: 5.5/10
Reviews Counted: 48
Fresh: 25
Rotten: 23

Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.

Average Rating: 5.1/10
Reviews Counted: 8
Fresh: 3
Rotten: 5

Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.


Average Rating: 3.2/5
User Ratings: 75,089



Movie Info

Embroiled in an affair with Thomas Callahan (Sam Shephard), her alcoholic professor, precocious 24-year-old Tulane University law student Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) writes up an insightful theory about the recent murder of two Supreme Court justices, one of whom, Abraham Rosenberg (Hume Cronyn), served as Callahan's mentor. When Callahan shares this so-called "Pelican Brief" with buddy Gavin Verheek (John Heard), an FBI lawyer, the document makes its way to White House flack Fletcher Coal (Tony … More

Mystery & Suspense , Drama
Directed By:
Written By:
Alan J. Pakula
In Theaters:
Aug 27, 1997
Warner Home Video


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Critic Reviews for The Pelican Brief

All Critics (48) | Top Critics (8) | Fresh (25) | Rotten (23) | DVD (3)

It's too bad that Pakula allows this 1993 movie to dawdle after its climax, but prior to that he's adept at suggesting unseen menace and keeping things in motion.

Full Review… | March 30, 2009
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Pakula has improved on Grisham's book by excising much of the detritus, crafting a taut, intelligent thriller that succeeds on almost every level.

Full Review… | November 5, 2008
Top Critic

An old hand at this sort of thing, Pakula goes through the motions, but not much more.

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

As the film piles on shovelfuls of further exposition, Mr. Washington and Ms. Roberts are left to look terrific and recite perfunctory lines.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

A brightly wrapped, ketchup-drenched mush-burger, it slides down the Zeitgeist esophagus like a slippery McPelican. You pay, you swallow, you drive home. You're left with nothing except, possibly, heartburn.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Washington Post
Top Critic

A clever device to take your mind off your problems for 141 minutes.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

A routine thriller, curiosuly disappointing from Alan Pakula that even stars like Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts can't rescue

Full Review… | June 18, 2011

Talky political thriller won't engage kids.

Full Review… | January 2, 2011
Common Sense Media

If I would still call it one of Pakula's very best films since the end of the 1970s, that says far more about the decline of his career than anything else.

Full Review… | January 14, 2010
Antagony & Ecstasy

If only The Pelican Brief were purposefully controversial.

Full Review… | April 1, 2009
Film Freak Central

A shallow bore.

Full Review… | March 30, 2009
TV Guide's Movie Guide

This is a standard Grisham pot-boiler.

Full Review… | March 30, 2009

You'd think that Pakula would be just the man to tease the intellectual and emotional depth out of a Grisham potboiler, but you'd be wrong. [Blu-ray]

Full Review… | February 10, 2009
Groucho Reviews

A curiously disappointing thriller from Alan Pakula, reaffirming the notion that John Gresham's best-selling novels are more fun to read (at the airport) than watch on the big screen, even if they star Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts.

Full Review… | October 8, 2006

Definitely an easy rental and a good way to drown a couple of hours if you're looking for a little suspense, some law stuff, lotsa secondary players and a couple of renowned leads delivering the goods.

Full Review… | May 5, 2006
JoBlo's Movie Emporium

Julia good Denzel better.

December 21, 2004
Greenwich Village Gazette

Good, albeit overlong Grisham thriller

October 7, 2004
Kalamazoo Gazette

...serves as a Cliff's notes edition of the book.

Full Review… | August 1, 2003
Reel Film Reviews

Bland, bloodless thriller.

March 26, 2003
San Francisco Examiner

Utterly confusing John Grisham story, with Roberts and Washington in full strereotype mode.

February 10, 2003
Sunday Times (Australia)

Middling thriller. Drags to say the least.

September 19, 2002

An overlong, over-plotted, instantly forgettable entertainment sporadically enlivened by decent supporting performances.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000

Audience Reviews for The Pelican Brief


Not all that enthralling. Probably only of interest to Julia Roberts fans. Over long and hard to follow (or maybe just my attention kept drifting off). Wanted to like it, but just a bit dull.

Nicki Marie

Super Reviewer


Made somewhere around the start of the mid-90's legal thriller craze (and most of those films were from John Grisham novels) The Pelican Brief is a film about a young law student's theory about the assassinations of two Supreme Court justices...and it just happens to actually be true. The paper reaches the president through a chain starting with her law professor - who she's also sleeping with - and uncovers a conspiracy involving the chief executive. Thus, the government does anything and everything to kill her, including murdering everyone she comes in contact with. Also coming into play in this is Denzel Washington, a Washington newspaper reporter who agrees to meet with her and becomes involved, no doubt because of the incredible attention and readership it would bring to him. The acting is superb, shifting from drama to action film almost effortlessly. I don't normally go for legal thrillers all that much, but this one is an exception to the rule.

Derek Daniels

Super Reviewer

A very good political conspiracy thriller with an outstanding cast. Based on the John Grisham novel. This is a entertaining film with a deep plot, it can be a little slow at times and light on action but overall an enjoyable well made film.

Dean !

Super Reviewer


Based on John Grisham's best-selling novel.

Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) is a law student at Tulane who writes her own theory about who arranged for the assassination of two Supreme Court justices and why. The unfortunate thing is, her theory is right on the money, and once it starts circulating it results in a number of deaths. Investigative reporter Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington) turns out to be the one person she can trust and rely on.

"The Pelican Brief" is a solid and entertaining (if lengthy) political / newspaper / legal thriller from the director of "All The President's Men". It keeps its grip thanks to genuinely good film-making and an excellent cast. The climax is reasonably suspenseful.

To screenwriter / director Alan J. Pakula's credit, the villain of the movie - a stereotypically greedy and maniacal tycoon - is deliberately made mysterious and gets no actual screen time - except for an appearance in a key photograph.

I've seen a couple of the big-screen Grisham adaptations, and they have all been pretty good. His novels do make for good movie material. I can't decide which one is the best, though...that's kind of tough. Hmmm I tooke ?A time to kill? and ?The Pelican brief?

Cassandra Maples

Super Reviewer

The Pelican Brief Quotes

FBI Director F. Denton Voyles:
Don't get your panties in a knot...
– Submitted by Jesse K (2 years ago)

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