The Pelican Brief


The Pelican Brief

Critics Consensus

Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington are a compelling team in the overlong Pelican Brief, a pulpy thriller that doesn't quite justify the intellectual remove of Alan J. Pakula's direction.



Total Count: 53


Audience Score

User Ratings: 75,593
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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, Rovi


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/Garcia
Casey Biggs
as Eric East
Kevin Geer
as KO Lewis
Joe Chrest
as Song & Dance Man from Bar
Richard Bauer
as Managing Editor
Michelle O'Neill
as Sara Ann Morgan
Peter Carlin
as Edward Linney
Terrence Currier
as Rosenberg's Nurse
Ralph Cosham
as Justice Jensen
Terrence P. Currier
as Rosenberg's Nurse
Harold Surratt
as Parklane Security Officer
Edwin Newman
as Himself
Ed Johnson
as W & B Security Guard
Magee Hickey
as Herself
Tom Quinn
as Sara Ann Morgan's Father
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Critic Reviews for The Pelican Brief

All Critics (53) | Top Critics (9) | Fresh (28) | Rotten (25)

  • Pakula's always had a cool style, tending toward solemnity, but let's face it, All the President's Men this movie is not. You wish he'd have a little more fun with the pulpy material.

    Feb 9, 2018 | Full Review…

    David Ansen

    Top Critic
  • 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.

    Mar 30, 2009 | Full Review…
  • Pakula has improved on Grisham's book by excising much of the detritus, crafting a taut, intelligent thriller that succeeds on almost every level.

    Nov 5, 2008

    Brian Lowry

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

    Feb 9, 2006 | Full Review…

    Derek Adams

    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.

    May 20, 2003 | Rating: 2.5/5
  • 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.

    Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Pelican Brief

  • Nov 16, 2018
    A realistic conspiracy story that the audience can actually follow.
    Ed K Super Reviewer
  • Dec 28, 2010
    With so much happening on screen for a bloated running time of 141 minutes, it is easy to overlook the countless inconsistencies and stupidities of this half-baked conspiracy thriller that believes to be pretty clever but is filled with paper-thin characters who rarely behave smartly.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Sep 16, 2010
    Pakula told this story somewhat before and that was "The Parallax View". "The Pelican Brief" is told again in a 90's linear fashion with two great leads who have real on screen chemistry. To bad they get into a Watergate-like situation that is way over their heads but then again there wouldn't be a movie to be told.
    Brian R Super Reviewer
  • Jul 19, 2010
    L'histoire dramatique est bien, cependant, le suspense dure trop longtemps. On ne sait pas du tout ce qu'est l'affaire pélican avant les 5-10 dernières minutes, ce qui est pour moi, beaucoup trop long. Si au moins on avançait légèrement dans l'histoire! Pour moi, il semble courir et se cacher pour fuir et par la suite, prendre les devant et en avoir le coeur net, sans nécessairement qu'on sache où tout cela se dirige. Dommage, car l'histoire aurait bien pu être plus excitante.
    Marc-André B Super Reviewer

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