The Pelican Brief (1993) starring Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard, John Heard, William Atherton, Robert Culp, Stanley Tucci, Hume Cronyn, John Lithgow directed by Alan J. Pakula Movie Review

The Pelican Brief (1993)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington in The Pelican Brief

The Pelican is not Brief Enough

I've always enjoyed a John Grisham book unfortunately I can't say I've enjoyed the movie adaptations as much, something always gets lost in translation from print to the big screen. Despite featuring a knock out cast which includes Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts "The Pelican Brief" is one of those where the movie is lacking something so brilliantly conveyed in Grisham's novel. So where as the book is a tense thriller, the movie is sadly more of a run of the mill thriller one which at nearly 2 and a half hours is far too long.

When 2 Supreme Court Justices are found murdered, young law student Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts - Conspiracy Theory) does some minor investigating and comes up with an idea as to why they were killed, an idea which would lead to major problems for the President. But having shown her brief to her boyfriend a college professor who in turn shows it to his friend who works close to the halls of power everything kicks off. Darby's boyfriend is murdered and suddenly her own life is in danger forcing her to go on the run. Hoping that he can help Darby turns to journalist Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington - American Gangster) telling him all about her brief on who she thinks killed the Justices and why.

Julia Roberts and Sam Shepard in The Pelican Brief

The actual idea, the political conspiracy, the murder of judges and a young law student finding her life in danger because she has come up with a dangerous brief on why these murders are going on is very good. So is the fact that this young law student finds herself trusting an investigative journalist who helps her try to solve the murder so that her life is no longer in threat. But whilst the actual idea is a good one full of conspiracy and intrigue what you get in the movie is all pretty run of the mill with Darby Shaw and Gray Grantham finding themselves in more and more danger as they get ever closer to the truth.

"The Pelican Brief" starts quite well it serves up a jumble of scenes where various characters are introduced making it confusing but at the same time intriguing even more so when the two Supreme Court Justices get murdered. But it doesn't take long for all the confusion to go away and things to settle down with Darby scared stiff because she knows her life is in threat and Gray trying to learn the truth. Oh there is still intrigue, we don't know how deep things go through the corridors of power but in a strange way it isn't important despite that it should be. And this means that whilst Darby and Gray go about uncovering the truth, "The Pelican Brief" ends up all very ordinary and predictable as we get scene after scene of Darby and Gray in danger as they snoop around.

What is missing for me is a sense of action, we get explosions and some chase sequences as well as a liberal scattering of murders but none of it is exciting. The action seems almost muted as if director Alan J. Pakula didn't want to make the action scenes more impressive in case they detracted from the storyline but in doing so the mundane ness of the action ends up detracting. Credit where it is due and the cinematography of the action scenes, actually the cinematography through out is solid and there are numerous scenes which are visually impressive either in delivering moodiness or just sweeping shots of the White House. But they don't make it any more interesting and the sense of mystery which appeared in Grisham's novel is missing.

As for the acting, well Julia Roberts as Darby Shaw starts off well delivering every ounce of a young inquisitive law student and when she finds herself in danger that sense of fear and unable to trust anyone comes across nicely. But then the character goes through a complete change when she meets Gray Grantham and suddenly Darby Shaw becomes this almost fearless investigator and whilst Roberts delivers that aspect it's so different to the early afraid character that it feels wrong, a too bigger transition for my liking. Denzel Washington is equally as good and is believable throughout as this investigative journalist who will push the boundaries to get to the truth. The semi romantic undertones which creep in feel wrong but otherwise there is no quibbling to Washington's strong performance.

Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts are not the only big name actors to appear in "The Pelican Brief" and although the likes of Hume Cronyn and John Lithgow have relatively small roles they deliver them brilliantly. As do the likes of Sam Shepard, John Heard, William Atherton, Robert Culp and Stanley Tucci who all give solid performances. And that is what you can say about all the acting in "The Pelican Brief", its solid, not a single bad performance delivered by anyone.

What this all boils down to is that whilst "The Pelican Brief" features a clever idea, nice camera work and solid performances from not only Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts but all the cast the adaptation of the story to the big screen lets it all down. Instead of being a really clever, tense thriller which draws you into the thick of the drama and action it leaves you slumped in your chair by being so ordinary. It's still entertaining but it's also very run of the mill lacking anything truly exciting.

Tags: John Grisham