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3.8 out of 5 stars
The Pelican Brief [DVD] [1993]
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 14 August 2005
I'm a big fan of John Grisham's books and the film adaptations of the books usually make for excellent viewing also. It's many a year though since I've read "The Pelican Brief" so when I sat down to watch the film I was unsure as to how confident I could be that the film was true to the book. It was surprising to find out after watching the film though, that the film rights were actually sold before the book was written, and Grisham himself wrote the part of Darby Shaw with Julia Roberts in mind, so you would image that the film should be a near perfect adaptation of the book.
The plot in many respects is extremely simple; two Supreme Court judges have been assassinated in what seems to be unrelated attacks. Legal student Darby Shaw with no other though than to investigate the deaths as a mental exercise in research, puts together a plausible explanation of why they judges have been killed, a theory which implicates both the White House and the FBI. Darby's partner Thomas Callahan (Sam Shepherd) shows the report to a friend in the FBI, who in turn shows it to the head of the FBI, who in turn shows it to the President. Unfortunately for Darby it would seem that her theory is somewhere too near to the truth for both the President and the FBI as a succession of various hit men and thugs are now trying to make Darby's brief and Darby herself disappear. Solace comes in the form of Washington Post journalist Gray Grantham (Denzil Washington) who comes to Darby's aid as they both try to uncover the truth and print the real version of events.
Amongst the various chases and thrills and spills it does become more than a little confusing as to who is chasing who and who is exactly on Darby's side. That's not to say though that the film is all explosions and shoot outs, indeed if anything what the film does play on very well in the isolation that Darby is forced into, as she must become anonymous so that the various government agencies cannot track her down.
Julia Roberts is excellent in this role as she shows real vulnerability as the scared and alone Darby. Very interesting is how the film makers change Darby's appearance throughout the film, in the early stages of her plight Darby is a wan and colourless waif, with scraped back hair and baggy clothes, as her characters begins the fight back and eventually partners up with Grantham her appearance changes into the shining red-haired beauty we know Robert's can be.
Denzil Washington is similarly very good in his role as the street wise Grantham, he eludes an aura of believability and confidence that would comfort the most frightened soul. He and Roberts play off each other extremely well and their chemistry is such that the romantic scenes that never come are almost conspicuous by their absence.
The final scenes as the dynamic duo bring the forces of evil to justice are thrilling and exciting and you almost feel like cheering when Grantham delivers the news of the story his paper is going to run in the morning to the various "baddies"
A great film of tension and drama and is well recommended.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 8 June 2001
Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington are simply outstanding in this film which draws you in scene by scene as your knowledge of what's going on increases and then is teased again by a further development. Perhaps frightening, because you could believe it could happen. I would have liked more of a romantic link between the two main characters, although its almost there, but perhaps I'm being a typical man wishing it were more obvious in the film - deeper woman may find the subtle appeal is enough already. Excellent film which I can't turn off once I've started it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 30 October 2009
This dvd is on both sides of the disc, requiring it to be turned over half-way through. This would not be a problem if it was clear on the box and on the disc itself. In fact the words "two-sided format" are in minute writing on the box, and there is nothing on the reverse of the disc to indicate that it is Side B.

None of my friends has ever come across a two-sided dvd, so they must be unusual, and it should be made much clearer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The Pelican Brief is directed by Alan J. Pakula who also adapts the screenplay from the novel of the same name written by John Grisham. It stars Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard, Stanley Tucci, John Heard, John Lithgow and Tony Goldwyn. Music is scored by James Horner and cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt.

When two Supreme Court justices are assassinated, Tulane University Law School student Darby Shaw (Roberts) writes The Pelican Brief, her theory on what is behind the killings. After showing it to her law professor lover Thomas Callahan (Shepard), it sets the wheels in motion for more murder and political intrigue, with Darby right in the middle of it and in fear for her life.

Ah John Grisham, he was just like Michael Crichton, authors who for a while seemed the hip guys to read and therefore became ripe to have their works adapted into movies. Of course this in no way was a measure of quality, where just like some of the Crichton adaptations, Grisham's literary transference to the big screen hasn't always proved to be critically successful. Sure, star casting and big amounts of studio cash driving them forwarded have ensured considerable box office returns (Pelican Brief made close to over $140 million in profit), but audiences have remained indifferent towards the visual tales of legal eagles in peril.

The Pelican Brief is quite frankly too often dull, a simple story is made to look over complicated by filling it with secondary characters that just come across as superfluous. The lead protagonists lack depth and development and long passages of dialogue feel like padding that just stretches the running time to the over long 140 minutes run time. Pakula (is this the same guy who crafted All the Presidents Men and Presumed Innocent?!) slow burns it in a way that we expect a big rousing pay off, yet the finale is one big anti-climax. Leaving us with a sort of "oh, is that it?" feeling.

Another major problem is the casting of Roberts as Shaw. Although unfairly thought of in the 90s as rom-com fodder (being good at it doesn't make her a bad actress), Roberts lacks the range to really bring Shaw to life, to hold the film together with a detailed characterisation. This leaves Washington (as political reporter Gray Grantham) straining to hold the core coupling together, which he does, manfully, but even his efforts can't lift the human interest part of the narrative to exciting heights. While elsewhere it all feels routine from the director and Horner at times thinks he is scoring an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, which of course doesn't fit.

It's not a total wash out, there's a fine ensemble of actors to appreciate and those with a legal/political bent are sure to get something from the plotting. But this should have been much better, more brainy and for sure more exciting, as it is it's a over long bore that wastes talent and premise in equal measure. 5/10
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 September 2014
A confusing whirlwind of traps being sprung and people lying in wait, but the "good folks" are always protected by magic wands.The praise you read here is from Amazon groupies of the 2 lead actors. This is a standard "killers-under-every-leaf" + "dynamite- under- the-hood" movie. It's a spin off of Jason Bourne films where the Good Guy overcome endless louses lying in wait. In one scene, the two goodies are saved by a ravenous Doberman Pinscher who comes to terrifying life in an auto just as the assassin is ready to pull the trigger. There's a touch of Batman in it it, too, as all traps are overcome. Moreover, I couldn't tell anybody apart. I had no idea who was who & what the motivations of the people were. An overlong ripoff and, of course, as always, at the end indictments are issued by an implacable Justice Department above outside influences,contradicting the corruption we've been seeing as the film unfolds. ,Lots of killings, lots of explosions and lots of incoherence. Pass this one up..
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 June 2011
Having loved the book I thought I'd give the film a shot. I ended up feeling a bit let down. Reading a previous review saying the film rights etc were sold before the book was written I'm interested in how different they are. Where the book is subtle and understated and takes the time to develop the characters and plot properly, the film, in comparison, seems heavy handed and rushed. Many things from the book that really made the story, such as the development of the peripheral characters and events are either sped through or omitted. In cases the story is totally different, for example the newspaper section of the story is quite different to the book version.

I don't know if it's because I read the book first but to me the film seems to fail to develop the plot enough to even stand up that well as a story in itself. Maybe it's just me but I ultimately felt that the film was neither a good adaptation of the book nor a particularly good thriller in its own right.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 10 August 2008
I've always loved this film, I had it on tape for years. It's a great story, intelligent, with superb acting. Other reviews say it all

What did annoy me was that the DVD is two-sided. You have to watch half the film, then turn the DVD over to watch the other half. This isn't going to be enough to irritate everybody but it really irrited me, and I really wouldn't have bought it if I'd known about the format.

I'm the lazy type who likes to settle down, surrounded by food, and not get up again until the film is finished and there's no food left. Like I said, not going to bother everybody but still worth knowing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 January 2013
This is first dvd I've had where you're required to turn it over half-way through. In addition, one of chapters on side 2 wouldn't play so had to be skipped. What a load of old rubbish. Might it be pirated? You've let me down this time Amazon.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 December 2013
There's nothing to get the pulse racing like stalkings and shoot-ups in high-rise parking garages, and then there's the old corruption that leads to the highest levels of government, and there's the one honest man at the big corrupt law firm . . . so you know what genre we're in, and it's great fun. I haven't read the novel, but Alan J Pakula, the director, keeps everything clear and screws up the tension effectively. It's nice to see the old Robert Culp, still earning an honest buck as a rather out-of-touch President, who doesn't know and doesn't want to know what's being done on his behalf, and it's nice too to see the young Stanley Tucci as an assassin. And then there's Sam Shepard as a law professor who might have been a candidate for the Supreme Court if it hadn't been for the booze. As it is, he's down in Tulane, teaching and sleeping with Julia Roberts, who solves the mystery of the assassination of two Supreme Court justices and then spends the rest of the movie trying to avoid being killed, while Denzel Washington plays the reporter who seeks to get confirmation of her story and to get it out. So Roberts and Washington function as both detectives AND as people on the run from assassins. Roberts and Washington are likeable people to see on-screen, and they are quite able to deliver on what this movie asks of them as actors. So . . .it's very enjoyable, and you know, given the genre, that it will all work out. The pleasure is in seeing how that happens and enjoying the suspense. I liked "The Lincoln Lawyer"; this one has fewer plot twists but a bit more conventional suspense. Well worth a look . . .
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 May 2013
I love this film I showed it many years ago when I worked as a projectionist at the Odeon cinema in Leicester square London and it has always remained in my memory, I originally owned the Dvd but now have the much better Blu-ray version in my collection.
It is well worth a watch and is a very fast moving edge of the seat drama, I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys well acted dramatic films.
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