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The Pelican Brief

Where to Watch The Pelican Brief


The Pelican Brief is an enthralling political thriller directed by Alan J. Pakula in 1993. Packed with star power, the movie features consummate performances by Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, and Sam Shepard, based on the 1992 novel of the same name by best-selling author John Grisham.

The plot is centered around two Supreme Court Justices being assassinated, a daring premise that immediately sets the tone for suspense, dramatic intrigue, and high-stakes investigation—hallmarks of a classic political thriller. The twisted narrative threads its way around power, politics, and personal ambition, providing the audience with a thought-provoking exploration of the dark underbelly of the nation's capital.

Julia Roberts, stepping out of her quintessential romantic-comedy persona, exudes an impressive screen presence as Darby Shaw, a young and ambitious law student at Tulane University. When she senses some irregular pattern related to the murders of the SC Justices, she drafts a speculative legal brief connecting the dots. This hypothetical report, later referred to as "The Pelican Brief," sets forth daring accusations that whip up an unpredictable storm extending beyond her comprehension.

Enter Denzel Washington's character, Gray Grantham, a seasoned reporter for the Washington Herald who comes across Shaw's explosive report. Washington, known for his multifaceted performances, impeccably portrays Grantham—wary, yet duty-bound to investigate the matter further. Their lives become interwoven as they navigate a perilous path, slicing through a web of high-ranking officials and vested interests.

Sam Shepard compliments the lead duo with his portrayal of Thomas Callahan, Shaw’s law professor and love interest who inadvertently gets involved in the ensuing chaos. His nuanced performance amplifies the emotional stakes of the narrative, bringing a deeper shade to the escalating tension and action.

The charm of The Pelican Brief lies in its presentation of politics intermingling with law enforcement and media, and the combined efforts to reveal the truth, or to conceal it, in order to protect vested interests. As the protagonists dig deeper into the mystery, they begin to realize they are treading on dangerous grounds where allies can morph into adversaries and trust becomes a pricey currency.

Director Alan J. Pakula, well-versed in crafting neo-noir thrillers, expertly handles the complex story of The Pelican Brief using tight shots and meticulously framed sequences. The pacing of the film is also expertly managed, as Pakula intersperses dramatic courtroom scenes with heart-pounding moments of suspense. The atmospheric music score further enhances the tension and suspense, while the cinematography effectively captures the mood and ambiance of the various Washington and New Orleans locales where the story unfolds.

Particularly noteworthy are the scenes that showcase the investigative efforts of the protagonists, crafted in a way to ooze with suspense and intrigue, while placing the audience at the edge of their seats. Intense moments are balance by quieter ones designed to build character depth, highlighting the director’s skill in maintaining narrative balance.

The Pelican Brief stands as a commendable adaptation of its source material, matching the breathless pace and gripping suspense of Grisham's novel. With riveting performances led by the unbeatable combination of Roberts and Washington along with the supporting cast, the film beautifully marries the world of law, journalism, and politics to create a gritty, intense thriller.

While it grapples with the big canvas of political narratives and institutional corruption, The Pelican Brief never forgets the simple human stories at its core. Love, ambition, fear, courage—each emotion is beautifully woven into the fabric of larger-than-life events. This invariably leads to a profound payoff, not just in terms of plot resolution, but also emotional satisfaction.

The Pelican Brief, in essence, is a deeply layered, suspenseful political thriller inspired by a highly regarded book. With its intriguing plot, stellar cast, and expert storytelling, it manages to capture the audience's attention from the first scene to the last, leaving them ruminating on the power dynamics of contemporary society.

The Pelican Brief is a Thriller movie released in 1993. It has a runtime of 141 minutes. Critics and viewers have rated it moderate reviews, with an IMDb score of 6.6. It also holds a MetaScore of 50.

How to Watch The Pelican Brief

Where can I stream The Pelican Brief movie online? The Pelican Brief is available to watch and stream, buy on demand, download at Netflix, Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play, YouTube VOD, Vudu. Some platforms allow you to rent The Pelican Brief for a limited time or purchase the movie for downloading.

Alan J. Pakula
Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard, John Heard, Tony Goldwyn, James B. Sikking, William Atherton, Robert Culp, Stanley Tucci
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