Directed By: Alan J. Pakula
Starring: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, John Heard, Tony Goldwyn, James Sikking, William Atherton, Robert Culp, Stanley Tucci, Hume Cronyn, John Lithgow, Anthony Heald, Jake Weber, et.al.
When two Supreme Court justices are murdered on the same night, Tulane law professor Thomas Callahan takes it upon himself to investigate possible reasons for the murders, especially since one of the judges was terminally ill. With the help of his girlfriend/student, Darby Shaw, Callahan comes up with a plausible theory that the authorities haven’t thought of, which theorizes that the judges were killed to aid an appeal of a court decision to protect a piece of land housing a rare subspecies of brown pelican. After turning the brief over to a friend at the FBI, Callahan is murdered, and Darby seeks out the help of both Callahan’s friend in the FBI, as well as investigative reporter Gray Grantham, who was also close to one of the murdered judges. After Gray is contacted by an insider at a high-powered law firm, he begins to believe that there is more to the murders than meets the eye, and he and Darby race against time to uncover a plot that leads all the way to the President of the United States.
Based on the John Grisham novel of the same name, this political thriller is well-paced and manages to keep the viewers attention throughout. Both Roberts and Washington were rising stars at the time and do great work with the material. The story itself remains relevant, even all these years later, since it’s not too hard to see a high-ranking politician ordering/being complicit in an assassination for financial and/or political gain.
There aren’t many special effects beyond background filler, which isn’t very noticeable.
This movie is something of an underrated gem. While it may not be as flashy as some action movies, it offers a well-paced story with a decent ticking clock. One of the few flaws was a character who was supposedly protecting Darby, though that wasn’t made completely clear. Other than that, this is a movie most people should enjoy, even if it’s just to get a glimpse of two stars before they were mega-famous.
The Pelican Brief is currently not available to stream anywhere, but can be rented through Redbox or Netflix home delivery service, or purchased through a participating store or on-line retailer.