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USA 1993
Directed by
Alan J. Pakula
143 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

The Pelican Brief

You pretty much know that any thriller that has Julia Roberts in the starring role is going to be a glossily soft-centred affair. The Pelican Brief is not only that but it’s overlong and unconvincing.

Roberts plays law student, Darby Shaw, who for no apparent reason produces a theory about the assassination of two Supreme Court judges that involves the President and one of his billionaire political supporters.  Again for no apparent reason her law professor boyfriend (Sam Shepard) hands this to a friend who gives it to another friend in the CIA and before you know it very bad people are trying to kill them both. With the killers on her heels Darby goes on lam with tenacious Washington Post reporter, Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington), as they try to prove the veracity of her theory.

Based on a John Grisham potboiler, The Pelican Brief is a conspiracy thriller that pits the little guys against a ruthless, powerful evil force and simultaneously requires that the latter knows everything about the former but is incapable of realizing its objective of terminating them thus justifying a series of close shaves and assorted dead support characters before the inevitable vanquishing.

Pakula has made some worthy films, notably the real-life conspiracy thriller, All The President’s Men (which was about two real-life Washington Post reporters) but The Pelican Brief is an empty experience overstocked with inconsequential characters in a dreary plot (apparently to help us if we are not following it Grantham writes down the major points on a notepad for all to see) which drones on in a familiarly improbable manner.

It would be nice to say that Roberts represents a strong female lead but she never escapes her usual pretty woman persona (Pakula even contrives to get her in a full frontal bra-no-blouse shot), complete with fabulous hair that changes style from scene to scene along with her wardrobe, miraculously all achieved whilst supposedly on the run. The less said about her burgeoning inter-racial romance with Washington’s Grantham (in the novel he's white) and the twee ending the better.  Washington is as ever quietly solid but everything around him is as flimsy as a stage set.




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