The Pelican Brief (1993) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Pelican Brief (1993)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

The Pelican Brief Trailers & Photos

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 Goldwyn), who believes it could topple the current administration. When Callahan is murdered and the President (Robert Culp) convinces the FBI to hold off on investigating Darby's theory, the resourceful student must go into hiding, stalked by relentless assassin Khamel (Stanley Tucci). Her only hope of escaping Callahan's fate and proving her theory lies in Washington investigative reporter Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington), who's already had one confidential source back out of sharing information about the assassinations. This John Grisham adaptation is generally faithful to the best-selling novel. Fans of HBO's Sex and the City will notice one of its future stars, Cynthia Nixon, in a small role as one of Darby's New Orleans classmates. ~ Brian J. Dillard, Rovimore
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Mystery & Suspense, Drama
Directed By:
Written By: Alan J. Pakula, John Grisham, John Grisham
In Theaters:
On DVD: Aug 27, 1997
Warner Home Video


Julia Roberts
as Darby Shaw
Denzel Washington
as Gray Grantham
Sam Shepard
as Thomas Callahan
John Heard
as Gavin Verheek
Tony Goldwyn
as Fletcher Coal
James B. Sikking
as Denton Voyles
William Atherton
as Bob Gminski
Robert Culp
as The President
Hume Cronyn
as Justice Rosenberg
John Lithgow
as Smith Keen
Anthony Heald
as Marty Velmano
Stanley Anderson
as Edwin Sneller
John Finn
as Matthew Barr
Cynthia Nixon
as Alice Stark
Jake Weber
as Charles Morgan/Garci...
Casey Biggs
as Eric East
Kevin Geer
as KO Lewis
Joseph Chrest
as Song & Dance Man fro...
Richard Bauer
as Managing Editor
Michelle O'Neill
as Sara Ann Morgan
Terrence Currier
as Rosenberg's Nurse
Peter Carlin
as Edward Linney
Ralph Cosham
as Justice Jensen
Harold Surratt
as Parklane Security Of...
Terrence P. Currier
as Rosenberg's Nurse
Edwin Newman
as Himself
Ed Johnson
as W & B Security Guard
Tom Quinn
as Sara Ann Morgan's Fa...
Magee Hickey
as Herself
Carol Sutton
as New Orleans Policewo...
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for The Pelican Brief

Critic Reviews for The Pelican Brief

All Critics (48) | Top Critics (8)

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

Full Review… | June 18, 2011

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 King

Super Reviewer

The Pelican Brief Quotes

– Submitted by Jesse K (3 years ago)

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