The Pelican Brief (film)

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The Pelican Brief
The Pelican Brief.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Produced by
Written by Alan J. Pakula
Based on The Pelican Brief
by John Grisham
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Stephen Goldblatt
Edited by
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • December 17, 1993 (1993-12-17)
Running time
141 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $45 million
Box office $195.3 million

The Pelican Brief is a 1993 American legal political 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. The film, which features music composed by James Horner, was the last film that featured Pakula as a writer or producer before his death.


Two Supreme Court justices are assassinated by the professional assassin "Sam" Khamel.

Tulane University Law School student Darby Shaw writes a legal brief detailing her theory on why they were killed and under whose orders. She delivers it to her law professor, mentor and secret lover Thomas Callahan, he gives a copy to his friend Gavin Verheek, attorney and special counsel to the Director of the FBI. Callahan is killed by a car bomb; Darby escapes because she refuses to enter the car with her drunk lover and is subsequently attacked by an unknown assailant. Realizing that her brief was accurate, she goes into hiding and reaches out to Verheek for dire assistance.

Political reporter Gray Grantham is contacted by an informant calling himself "Garcia" with information about the assassinations, yet "Garcia" suddenly disappears, and Darby contacts Grantham, who finds her information is valid and accurate. Darby's computer, disks, and files have disappeared from her home, where she is again attacked but manages to escape, she contacts Verheek and they arrange to meet, but Verheek is murdered by Khamel who impersonates his victim and proceeds to the meeting. Before Khamel can kill Darby, he is shot and killed by an unknown person.

Darby contacts Grantham and agrees to meet him in New York City, where she gives him the details of her brief that speculates the assassins were loyal to Victor Mattiece, an oil tycoon who intends to drill for on a Louisiana marshland, a known habitat of an endangered species of brown pelicans. A court appeal to prevent such harm is expected to reach the Supreme Court. Darby surmised Mattiece, hoping to turn the case in his favor, is behind the Justices' murders, given their history of environmentalism. When Grantham tells her about "Garcia", they discover that the man is Curtis Morgan, a lawyer in the oil and gas division at the White & Blazevich, in Washington.

Darby visits White & Blazevich, pretending to have an appointment with Morgan, and is told he had been killed. Suspecting that his murder was related to the incriminating information, 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 Darby's theory, as Morgan documents prove his own discovery that Mattiece ordered the assassination of the Justices, with this evidence, Grantham writes his story. He gives the FBI a chance to comment and FBI Director Voyles confirms that Darby's "Pelican Brief" was delivered to the White House, he reveals the President ordered the FBI to "back off", and that CIA agents were investigating Mattiece, with one of them killing Khamel to save Darby's life. A plane is arranged for Darby to flee the country.

Darby is watching a TV interview of Grantham where it is revealed that Mattiece and two partners at White & Blazevich have been indicted in federal court, the President's chief of staff has resigned, and the President (who received $4.2 million in contributions from Mattiece) 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.



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." Roger Ebert praised the film and gave it 3/4 in his review. It currently holds a 52% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[1]

Box office[edit]

The film was a box office hit and grossed $195,268,056 worldwide.[2][3]


External links[edit]