Box art for The Pelican Brief

The Pelican Brief

drama, thrillers

Julia Roberts who finds herself embroiled in a terrifying web of intrigue extending to the highest levels of government after she writes a speculative legal brief exposing the illegal activities of a powerful oil magnate.

Rotten Tomatoes® scores

  • Critic Score
  • Audience Score

common sense

ON for kids age 14
0 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
3 out of 5
3 out of 5
Positive messages
0 out of 5
3 out of 5
3 out of 5

Talky political thriller won't engage kids.

what parents need to know

Parents need to know that this film is relatively free of foul language, violence, or explicit sex. But one brief scene features a murder in a porno theater; the main character is shown in a heavy clinch with a boyfriend, and several characters are killed over the course of the film (though gore is at a minimum).

what families can talk about

  • Families can talk about the way that political thrillers dramatize events that could have happened in real life. Conversations on the role of the whistle-blower, and the responsibility of citizens to speak up when they see wrongdoing, might also be sparked by this movie.

movie reviews from Rotten Tomatoes®

  • Tomatometer®

    reviews counted: 5
    see all The Pelican Brief reviews
  • Audience


Top Critic Reviews

Rotten: A curiously disappointing thriller from Alan Pakula, reaffirming the notion that John Gresham's best-selling novels are more fun to read (at the airport) than watch on the big screen, even if they star Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts.

- Emanuel Levy, Screendaily, Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fresh: Definitely an easy rental and a good way to drown a couple of hours if you're looking for a little suspense, some law stuff, lotsa secondary players and a couple of renowned leads delivering the goods.

- JoBlo, JoBlo's Movie Emporium, Monday, March 30, 2009

Rotten: You'd think that Pakula would be just the man to tease the intellectual and emotional depth out of a Grisham potboiler, but you'd be wrong. Blu-ray]

- Peter Canavese, Groucho Reviews, Thursday, June 24, 2010

Audience Reviews

4 stars

Based on John Grisham's best-selling novel. Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) is a law student at Tulane who writes her own theory about who arranged for the assassination of two Supreme Court justices and why. The unfortunate thing is, her theory is right on the money, and once it starts circulating it results in a number of deaths. Investigative reporter Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington) turns out to be the one person she can trust and rely on. "The Pelican Brief" is a solid and entertaining (if lengthy) political / newspaper / legal thriller from the director of "All The President's Men". It keeps its grip thanks to genuinely good film-making and an excellent cast. The climax is reasonably suspenseful. To screenwriter / director Alan J. Pakula's credit, the villain of the movie - a stereotypically greedy and maniacal tycoon - is deliberately made mysterious and gets no actual screen time - except for an appearance in a key photograph. I've seen a couple of the big-screen Grisham adaptations, and they have all been pretty good. His novels do make for good movie material. I can't decide which one is the best, though...that's kind of tough. Hmmm I tooke ?A time to kill? and ?The Pelican brief?

- matertenebraum, Sunday, December 21, 2008

0 star

dull and indifferently acted

- jjnxn, Friday, April 6, 2007

4 stars

this is really a great film. i heard a lot of people say that it was boring but i couldnt disagree more, i was into this film every step of the way. the scene in the parking garage towards the end was stupid and there is a slight flaw in the way parts of the story were constructed, but it was a great flick. normally i would rave about denzel, and he is great in this flick, but julia roberts was amazing in this film. she pulled emotions, facial expressions, and reactions that were great. she played the heck out of this role. really good movie.

- sanjurosamurai, Sunday, June 3, 2007