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
    52%
  • Audience Score
    61%

common sense

ON for kids age 14
Consumerism
0 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
3 out of 5
Language
3 out of 5
Positive messages
0 out of 5
Sex
3 out of 5
Violence
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®

    52%
    reviews counted: 5
    see all The Pelican Brief reviews
  • Audience

    61%

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

This fantastic paranoia filled thriller is a nail biting suspense at it's best and stands as one of director Alan J. Pakula's best works in his filmography. Pakula has never been a stranger for these kind of conspiracy films. His Parallax View and All the President's Men are considired as a classics these days. He is actually a director with a very strong filmography. There are also films like Klute and Presumed Innocent that both stand as a prime examples of great filmmaking at their very best. One of Pakula's biggest strenghts was his ability to build tension and The Pelican Brief is by far his most suspenseful film to date. Here is a film that minute by minute gets more and more exciting and it all climaxes into a tense climax that will have you on the edge of your seat. With this film Pakula even surpassed many masters of tension like Hitchcock or De Palma when it comes to making your heart pound. The source material, that is based on John Grisham's book with a same name, is clearly a complex piece of work. There are many different sideplots at work here and it does take time to see all of them tied together. This is a kind of film that is demanding and asks for viewer's patience but it is also hugely rewarding and it never loses it's tension or interest. Pakula keeps his film always fascinating and the main plot involving the pelican brief, which refers to a theory about the murderers of two supreme court justices, is truly great piece of screenwriting. This is a prime example of flawless thriller. The Pelican Brief has style, it has very good screenplay, it is intelligent, it has suspense and it has great cast with many talented names in it. You could blame it for stretching the logic, especially in the final third of the film, but in the end it is a film and i myself actually love these kind of films where tension is build slowly until it explodes with full force to viewers senses. I really loved that parking hall climax and i consider it as a one of the greatest examples of how to create tension in films. It should be shown in filmschools in my opion. It would be the best possible example there actually is. When it comes to acting i must admit that The Pelican Brief is damn solid work. There are no minor roles here and every actor here get their moment. There are also so many great names involved here that it would take ages to name them all. I still have to give extra credit for Julia Roberts who has never been better than she is in here. This is her film and she carries it with great skill. Denzel Washingotn also gives one of his most perfectly nuanced turns as a reporter Gray Grantham. Washington and Roberts are both more muted than usually here and it suits well to the film's overall mood. Every element of the productuction is a top notch. Especially James Horner's brilliant score stands out and creates hypnotic atmosphere around the film with sudden bursts of tension and sheer terror. He truly made one of his most accomplished compositions with this film. True hero of it all is still Alan J. Pakula. As a director, writer and producer of this film film he obviously had total control of his work and the reult is one of the best films of 90's and possibly Pakula's too. I have always loved this film i still find it much more elegant and interesting than many of todays thrillers. Back in the 90's there were made many thrillers but not many of them reached the same effect or heights The Pelican Brief did. It truly came to me as a sad news when i heard that Alan J. Pakula died accidentally in 1998. He was clearly at the top of his game as a director. For me he will be always one of the greates directors. I loved so many of his films and i still do. The Pelican Brief is Pakula's masterpiece.

- emilkakko, Monday, February 25, 2013

4 stars

This fantastic paranoia filled thriller is a nail biting suspense at it's best and stands as one of director Alan J. Pakula's best works in his filmography. Pakula has never been a stranger for these kind of conspiracy films. His Parallax View and All the President's Men are considired as a classics these days. He is actually a director with a very strong filmography. There are also films like Klute and Presumed Innocent that both stand as a prime examples of great filmmaking at their very best. One of Pakula's biggest strenghts was his ability to build tension and The Pelican Brief is by far his most suspenseful film to date. Here is a film that minute by minute gets more and more exciting and it all climaxes into a tense climax that will have you on the edge of your seat. With this film Pakula even surpassed many masters of tension like Hitchcock or De Palma when it comes to making your heart pound. The source material, that is based on John Grisham's book with a same name, is clearly a complex piece of work. There are many different sideplots at work here and it does take time to see all of them tied together. This is a kind of film that is demanding and asks for viewer's patience but it is also hugely rewarding and it never loses it's tension or interest. Pakula keeps his film always fascinating and the main plot involving the pelican brief, which refers to a theory about the murderers of two supreme court justices, is truly great piece of screenwriting. This is a prime example of flawless thriller. The Pelican Brief has style, it has very good screenplay, it is intelligent, it has suspense and it has great cast with many talented names in it. You could blame it for stretching the logic, especially in the final third of the film, but in the end it is a film and i myself actually love these kind of films where tension is build slowly until it explodes with full force to viewers senses. I really loved that parking hall climax and i consider it as a one of the greatest examples of how to create tension in films. It should be shown in filmschools in my opion. It would be the best possible example there actually is. When it comes to acting i must admit that The Pelican Brief is damn solid work. There are no minor roles here and every actor here get their moment. There are also so many great names involved here that it would take ages to name them all. I still have to give extra credit for Julia Roberts who has never been better than she is in here. This is her film and she carries it with great skill. Denzel Washingotn also gives one of his most perfectly nuanced turns as a reporter Gray Grantham. Washington and Roberts are both more muted than usually here and it suits well to the film's overall mood. Every element of the productuction is a top notch. Especially James Horner's brilliant score stands out and creates hypnotic atmosphere around the film with sudden bursts of tension and sheer terror. He truly made one of his most accomplished compositions with this film. True hero of it all is still Alan J. Pakula. As a director, writer and producer of this film film he obviously had total control of his work and the reult is one of the best films of 90's and possibly Pakula's too. I have always loved this film i still find it much more elegant and interesting than many of todays thrillers. Back in the 90's there were made many thrillers but not many of them reached the same effect or heights The Pelican Brief did. It truly came to me as a sad news when i heard that Alan J. Pakula died accidentally in 1998. He was clearly at the top of his game as a director. For me he will be always one of the greates directors. I loved so many of his films and i still do. The Pelican Brief is Pakula's masterpiece.

- emilkakko, Monday, February 25, 2013

3 stars

A very good political conspiracy thriller with an outstanding cast. Based on the John Grisham novel. This is a entertaining film with a deep plot, it can be a little slow at times and light on action but overall an enjoyable well made film.

- Deano78, Monday, August 31, 2009