The Pelican Brief (film)
|The Pelican Brief|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alan J. Pakula|
|Produced by||Alan J. Pakula
Pieter Jan Brugge
Bryan D. Gilchrist
|Written by||Alan J. Pakula|
|Based on||The Pelican Brief
by John Grisham
|Music by||James Horner|
|Editing by||Tom Rolf, Trudy Ship|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Running time||141 minutes|
The Pelican Brief is a 1993 legal crime thriller based on the novel of the same name by John Grisham. Directed by Alan J. Pakula, the film stars Julia Roberts in the role of young law student Darby Shaw and Denzel Washington as Washington Herald reporter Gray Grantham. Music was composed by James Horner. This was the last film to feature Pakula as a producer and writer before his death.
||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (October 2011)|
While the viewer is led to believe that the justices are killed by a radical right to life group because they are pro-choice, Tulane University Law School student Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) suspects the real motive might be different. She writes a legal brief, and shows it to her law professor, mentor and lover Thomas Callahan (Sam Shepard). He gives a copy to his friend Gavin Verheek (John Heard) at the FBI.
Callahan is killed by a car bomb; Darby escapes because she would not get into the car with her drunk lover. She is attacked by an unknown assailant. Realizing that her brief was accurate, she goes into hiding and reaches out to Verheek for help.
Political reporter Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington) is contacted by an informant who calls himself "Garcia" who claims to have information about the assassinations. "Garcia" disappears. Darby contacts Grantham and mentions the Pelican brief; Grantham discovers the information Darby discloses has validity.
Darby finds out that her computer, disks and files are gone from her apartment. Soon after, she is attacked again, but again escapes. She contacts Verheek and arranges to meet him, but he is murdered by Khamel, who then goes to the meeting impersonating Verheek. Before Khamel can kill her he is shot and killed by an unknown agent.
Darby contacts Grantham again and agrees to meet him in New York City. There she gives him the details of her brief.
The legal brief speculates that the assassinations were committed on behalf of Victor Mattiece, an oil tycoon who wants to drill for oil on a Louisiana marshland which is a major habitat of an endangered species of pelicans. A court case on appeal is expected to make its way to the Supreme Court. The two slain justices had a history of environmentalism — their only common view — and thus Darby surmised that Mattiece hoped to turn the case in his favor by eliminating the two justices. Grantham tells her about "Garcia", and together they discover that "Garcia" is Curtis Morgan (Jake Weber), a lawyer in the oil and gas division of White & Blazevich in Washington.
Darby visits White & Blazevich, pretending to have an appointment with Morgan. She is told that he had been killed, and suspects that this was related to the information he had. She and Grantham visit his widow, who gives them a key to a safe deposit box.
Darby visits the bank to retrieve the contents of the box. After barely escaping death by a car bomb, they reach the Washington Herald building, where they review the documents and a videotape recovered from Morgan's box. The tape confirms Morgan's discovery that Mattiece ordered the assassination of the justices and the documents confirm the accusations. With this evidence Grantham writes his story. He gives the FBI a chance to comment, and FBI Director Voyles (James B. Sikking) confirms that the Pelican Brief was delivered to the White House; off the record, he reveals that the President ordered the FBI to "back off", that CIA agents were investigating Mattiece, and that one of them killed Khamel to save Darby's life. A plane is arranged for Darby to flee the country.
The movie ends with Darby at her hideaway, watching Grantham being interviewed on TV, where it is revealed that Mattiece and two of his lawyers have been indicted in federal court, the President's chief of staff has resigned, and the President himself will not run for office again. Grantham deflects speculation that Darby is fictional, but does agree that she is "almost" too good to be true. Darby smiles as the screen cuts to black.
Differences from book
The film does not contain the murder of Matthew Barr and therefore does not show the primary antagonist, Victor Mattiece.
Gray Grantham is white in the book. He is portrayed by Denzel Washington, an African-American, in the film.
The villains continue their hot pursuit as Darby Shaw opens the safe-deposit box, putting a bomb in Gray Grantham's car and shooting at both in the parking garage in the film but not in the book.
The movie opens with Rosenberg speaking to Gray Grantham, where in the book he is speaking to one of his aides.
There is more dialogue by Khamel in the book, as he arrives on shore and meets a man who gives him a ride into the city. The man talks about knowing this is the terrorist, but not wanting to look at him because of that. Eventually he does look at Khamel, who kills him for it.
Darby's friend Alice goes to her apartment upon Darby's request, to find out if her apartment has been broken into and tampered with. In the book, Alice speaks with Darby's neighbor about if anyone has been in the apartment. They do not show this in the movie.
In the book Thomas seems to be attempting to be sober, where in the film his alcoholism is alive and well as he dates Darby.
Voyles is described as portly in the book but is quite tall and slim in the movie. Also, Fletcher Coal is bald in the book while being covered in curly hair in the movie.
In the book, while Darby is in the offices of the Herald with Gray, finalizing their story, Mattiece's hired associates wait outside of the building hoping to end Darby's life as she enters or exits. In the movie, there is no such watching of the building.
Darby cuts her hair very short and dyes it several times in the book while maintaining Julia's signature red, curly locks in the movie.
One of the biggest differences between the book and the movie is that in the book, there seems to be a burgeoning romance between Darby and Gray, which ends with them meeting up after she flees the country. In the movie, they keep it very business like, and there is no love story ending where they end up on a beach, talking about the future. The film is sometimes cited as a example of how American films of this era tended to avoid depicting interracial romance; however, the producers claimed the romantic element was removed from the film not due to racial issues, but because "it would detract from the thriller".  
- Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) - second year Tulane University Law School student; author of the brief
- Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington) - reporter for the fictional Washington Herald
- Fletcher Cole (Tony Goldwyn) - White House Chief of Staff; unofficial head of power
- Khamel "Sam" (Stanley Tucci) - international assassin
- Thomas Callahan (Sam Shepard) - Tulane law school professor; romantically involved with Darby Shaw
- Gavin Verheek (John Heard) - lawyer, special counsel to the FBI director; friend to Thomas Callahan
- F. Denton Voyles (James B. Sikking) - Director of the FBI
- Alice Stark (Cynthia Nixon) - Darby Shaw's friend
- Bob Gminski (William Atherton) - CIA Director
- The President (Robert Culp) - elected U.S. President whose name is unspecified and is always referred to as "the President"; delegates many administrative duties to Fletcher Cole
- Smith Keen (John Lithgow) - Gray Grantham's boss, an assistant managing editor at the fictional Washington Herald
- Justice Rosenberg (Hume Cronyn) - eldest, most controversial Supreme Court Justice
- Justice Jensen (Ralph Cosham) - youngest Supreme Court Justice; apparently homosexual
- Curtis Morgan (aka Garcia) (Jake Weber) - lawyer for White & Blazovitch who stumbles across an incriminating memo, costing him his life.
- Marty Velmano (Anthony Heald) - senior attorney at White & Blazovitch and conspirator on Victor Mattiece's behalf
- Stump (Nicholas Woodeson) - assassin who stalks Darby Shaw
The film received mostly mixed reviews from critics. Pat Collins, from WWOR-TV, said that the film was, "A heart-stopping, spine-chilling, adrenaline-pumping, run-for-your-life thriller." It currently holds a 52% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
- James Robert Parish, Denzel Washington Infobase Publishing, 2009 ISBN 1438111835 (p. 54).
- Renee Christine Romano, Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America Harvard University Press, 2009 ISBN 0674042883, (p. 276).
- "Jake Weber Biography (1964-)". NetIndustries. Retrieved 2007-10-21.
- "Pelican' Soars at the Box Office Movies: The mystery, with Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, takes in more than $16 million. `Mrs. Doubtfire,' `Schindler's List' also do well.". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-30.
- "'Mrs. Doubtfire,' 'Pelican Brief' propel final week and 'Jurassic Park' chews up the competition as industry receipts hit $5.2 billion.". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
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- The Pelican Brief at the Internet Movie Database
- The Pelican Brief at AllMovie
- The Pelican Brief at Box Office Mojo
- The Pelican Brief at Rotten Tomatoes