The Pelican Brief (1993)


Dave’s 3-Word Review:
True legal thriller.

A lot of people piece courtroom thrillers with John Grisham, and while that is a fair comparison, all of his books don’t take place in the courtroom. After all, he had a Christmas-centered comedy book turned movie, and he’s had a number of sports-related books as well. The Pelican Brief, however, isn’t a courtroom thriller, but it is the very definition of legal thriller. Who says you have to go to court for it to be a legal thriller? It just needs to cover legal grounds, and that’s exactly what The Pelican Brief does.

Basically, this film centers on a conspiracy. When two Supreme Court Justices are murdered, a law student by the name of Darby Shaw writes up a theory called The Pelican Brief that turns out to actually expose the real killers, even though it’s a wild conspiracy. So all of a sudden, everyone that gets close to her or knows about the brief gets killed and she’s next. She has to talk to Gray Grantham, a smart reporter, who will help her uncover the rest of the truth while keeping her from harms path at the same time.

Man oh man, what a movie. It’s a little lengthy (2 ½ hours), but it’s still an exciting adventure nonetheless. The actual brief is hard to understand, and if you wrack your brain around what the brief actually says, you’re better off just reading the book because the movie is definitely not the best place to answer that question. Instead, it was more about the idea of a conspiracy in general, and escaping the impossible. Man vs. nature where nature is telling you that you, sir or madame, are screwed. That’s what this movie is about, and that ultimately, is one of its major flaws.

We have so many conspiracy movies out there that this actually falls into the pool of the rest. If you aren’t a fan of John Grisham, you may actually find this film… forgettable, no matter how good or bad it is. However, I think it is actually a great movie, and follows the book pretty closely. Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington make this movie what it is, and you should at least watch this movie if it’s only just for them. Give it a chance. I’d like to point out that Julia Roberts character is simply a law student, not a lawyer, making her a rookie in this whole story…which is another unique trait that John Grisham likes to supply for his stories, making it deserving enough to watch.

I can see its faults though. Whenever you have a movie going over two hours, you end up with a good portion of the audience annoyed. Not a lot of people feel up to watching long movies, especially when it doesn’t make sense to be so long. Peter Jackson is obvious, his movies are going to be long, but a random legal thriller? Really? And I agree, The Pelican Brief had plenty of moments that could have been cut a little shorter. I think maybe it was trying a little hard to be like the book, and that hurt it a little, but I personally really like it and consider it a true legal thriller worthy of the Grisham name.

The Good:

This is a true legal thriller legal of the Grisham name. It has a lot of action, a lot of great acting, some really great shots, and a compelling conspiracy story that’s sure to have you on the edge of your seat. Also, for a movie over 20 years old, it still translates very well for a current audience.

The Bad:

It’s long, standing at two and a half hours. There are plenty of spots where it could have been cut shorter, the length alone could turn people away.

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