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The Pelican Brief (film)

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Title: The Pelican Brief (film)  
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Subject: Tulane University Law School, John Heard (actor), John Grisham, 1993 in film, William Atherton
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The Pelican Brief (film)

The Pelican Brief
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Produced by Alan J. Pakula
Pieter Jan Brugge
Bryan D. Gilchrist
Written by Alan J. Pakula
Based on The Pelican Brief 
by John Grisham
Starring Julia Roberts
Denzel Washington
Sam Shepard
Hume Cronyn
Stanley Tucci
John Heard
John Lithgow
Tony Goldwyn
James Sikking
William Atherton
Robert Culp
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Stephen Goldblatt
Edited by Tom Rolf, Trudy Ship
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • December 17, 1993 (1993-12-17)
Running time
141 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $45 million
Box office $195 million

The Pelican Brief is a 1993 legal political thriller based on the novel of the same name by John Grisham. Directed by Alan J. Pakula, the film stars Julia Roberts in the role of young law student Darby Shaw and Denzel Washington as Washington Herald reporter Gray Grantham. Music was composed by James Horner. This was the last film to feature Pakula as a producer and writer before his death.


  • Plot 1
  • Differences from book 2
  • Cast 3
  • Reception 4
    • Box office 4.1
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Two Supreme Court justices are assassinated by the professional assassin "Sam" Khamel (Stanley Tucci).

Tulane University Law School student Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) writes a legal brief detailing her theory on why they were killed and under whose orders, and shows it to her law professor, mentor and lover Thomas Callahan (Sam Shepard). He gives a copy to his friend Gavin Verheek (John Heard), a lawyer at the FBI.

Callahan is killed by a car bomb; Darby escapes because she would not get into the car with her drunk lover. She is attacked by an unknown assailant. Realizing that her brief was accurate, she goes into hiding and reaches out to Verheek for help.

Political reporter Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington) is contacted by an informant who calls himself "Garcia" who claims to have information about the assassinations. "Garcia" disappears. Darby contacts Grantham and mentions her brief; Grantham discovers the information Darby discloses has validity.

Darby finds out that her computer, disks and files are gone from her apartment. Soon after, she is attacked again, but again escapes. She contacts Verheek and arranges to meet him, but he is murdered by Khamel, who then goes to the meeting impersonating Verheek. Before Khamel can kill her, he is shot and killed by an unknown agent.

Darby contacts Grantham again and agrees to meet him in New York City. There she gives him the details of her brief.

The Jake Weber), a lawyer in the oil and gas division of White & Blazevich in Washington.

Darby visits White & Blazevich, pretending to have an appointment with Morgan. She is told that he had been killed, and suspects that this was related to the information he had. She and Grantham visit his widow, who gives them a key to a safe deposit box.

Darby visits the James B. Sikking) confirms that the Pelican Brief was delivered to the White House; off the record, he reveals that the President ordered the FBI to "back off", that CIA agents were investigating Mattiece, and that one of them killed Khamel to save Darby's life. A plane is arranged for Darby to flee the country.

The movie ends with Darby at her hideaway, watching Grantham being interviewed on TV, where it is revealed that Mattiece and two of his lawyers have been indicted in federal court, the President's chief of staff has resigned, and the President himself will not run for office again. Grantham deflects speculation that Darby is fictional, but does agree that she is "almost" too good to be true. Darby smiles as the screen cuts to black.

Differences from book

The film does not contain the murder of Matthew Barr and therefore does not show the primary antagonist, Victor Mattiece.

Gray Grantham is Caucasian in the book. He is portrayed by Denzel Washington, an African-American, in the film.

The villains continue their hot pursuit as Darby Shaw opens the safe-deposit box, putting a bomb in Gray Grantham's car and shooting at them both in the parking garage in the film but not in the book.

The movie opens with Rosenberg speaking to Gray Grantham, where in the book he is speaking to one of his aides.

There is more dialogue by Khamel in the book, as he arrives on shore and meets a man who gives him a ride into the city. The man talks about knowing this is the terrorist, but not wanting to look at him because of that. Eventually he does look at Khamel, who kills him for it.

Darby's friend Alice goes to her apartment upon Darby's request, to find out if her apartment has been broken into and tampered with. In the book, Alice speaks with Darby's neighbor about if anyone has been in the apartment. They do not show this in the movie.

In the book Thomas seems to be attempting to be sober, where in the film his alcoholism is alive and well as he dates Darby.

Voyles is described as portly in the book but is quite tall and slim in the movie. Also, Fletcher Coal is bald in the book while being covered in curly hair in the movie. In the book Coal is also described as a workaholic spending 120 hours per week in the White House, while he has a wife and two kids in the movie.

In the book, while Darby is in the offices of the Herald with Gray, finalizing their story, Mattiece's hired associates wait outside of the building hoping to end Darby's life as she enters or exits. In the movie, there is no such watching of the building.

Darby cuts her hair very short and dyes it several times in the book while maintaining Julia's signature red, curly locks in the movie.

One of the biggest differences between the book and the movie is that in the book, there seems to be a burgeoning romance between Darby and Gray, which ends with them meeting up after she flees the country. In the movie, they keep it very business like, and there is no love story ending where they end up on a beach, talking about the future. The film is sometimes cited as an example of how American films of this era tended to avoid depicting interracial romance; however, the producers claimed the romantic element was removed from the film not due to racial issues, but because "it would detract from the thriller".[1][2]


  • Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) - second year Tulane University Law School student; author of the brief
  • Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington) - reporter for the fictional Washington Herald
  • Fletcher Cole (Tony Goldwyn) - White House Chief of Staff
  • Khamel "Sam" (Stanley Tucci) - hired assassin
  • Thomas Callahan (Sam Shepard) - Tulane law school professor; romantically involved with Darby Shaw
  • Gavin Verheek (John Heard) - lawyer, special counsel to the FBI director; friend to Thomas Callahan
  • F. Denton Voyles (James B. Sikking) - Director of the FBI
  • Alice Stark (Cynthia Nixon) - Darby Shaw's friend
  • Bob Gminski (William Atherton) - Director of the CIA
  • The President (Robert Culp) - elected U.S. President whose name is unspecified and is always referred to as "the President"
  • Smith Keen (John Lithgow) - Gray Grantham's boss, an assistant managing editor at the fictional Washington Herald
  • Justice Rosenberg (Hume Cronyn) - eldest, most controversial Supreme Court Justice
  • Justice Jensen (Ralph Cosham) - youngest Supreme Court Justice
  • Curtis Morgan (aka Garcia) (Jake Weber)[3] - lawyer for White & Blazovitch who stumbles across an incriminating memo, costing him his life.
  • Marty Velmano (Anthony Heald) - senior attorney at White & Blazovitch and conspirator on Victor Mattiece's behalf
  • Stump (Nicholas Woodeson) - assassin who stalks Darby Shaw


The film received mostly mixed reviews from critics. Pat Collins, from WWOR-TV, said that the film was, "A heart-stopping, spine-chilling, adrenaline-pumping, run-for-your-life thriller." It currently holds a 52% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Box office

The film was a box office hit and grossed $195,268,056 worldwide.[4][5]


  1. ^ James Robert Parish, Denzel Washington Infobase Publishing, 2009 ISBN 1438111835 (p. 54).
  2. ^ Renee Christine Romano, Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America Harvard University Press, 2009 ISBN 0674042883, (p. 276).
  3. ^ "Jake Weber Biography (1964-)". NetIndustries. Retrieved 2007-10-21. 
  4. ^ "Pelican' Soars at the Box Office Movies: The mystery, with Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, takes in more than $16 million. `Mrs. Doubtfire,' `Schindler's List' also do well.". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-30. 
  5. ^ Mrs. Doubtfire,' 'Pelican Brief' propel final week and 'Jurassic Park' chews up the competition as industry receipts hit $5.2 billion."'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-26. 

External links

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