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The Pelican Brief (1993)



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

No consensus yet.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.2/5
User Ratings: 75,070

My Rating

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


Mystery & Suspense, Drama

Alan J. Pakula

Aug 27, 1997

Warner Home Video

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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.

March 30, 2009 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop 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.

November 5, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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

February 9, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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

May 20, 2003 Full Review Source: New York Times
New York Times
Top Critic IconTop 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.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Washington Post
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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

June 18, 2011 Full Review Source: EmanuelLevy.Com

Talky political thriller won't engage kids.

January 2, 2011 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
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.

January 14, 2010 Full Review Source: Antagony & Ecstasy
Antagony & Ecstasy

If only The Pelican Brief were purposefully controversial.

April 1, 2009 Full Review Source: Film Freak Central
Film Freak Central

A shallow bore.

March 30, 2009 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

This is a standard Grisham pot-boiler.

March 30, 2009 Full Review Source: Film4

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]

February 10, 2009 Full Review Source: Groucho Reviews
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.

October 8, 2006 Full Review Source: Screendaily

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.

May 5, 2006 Full Review Source: JoBlo's Movie Emporium
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.

August 1, 2003 Full Review Source: Reel Film Reviews
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.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source:

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.
March 14, 2010

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.
August 31, 2009

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?
December 21, 2008

Super Reviewer

    1. FBI Director F. Denton Voyles: Don't get your panties in a knot...
    – Submitted by Jesse K (2 years ago)
View all quotes (1)

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