The Pelican Brief


A law student uncovers a conspiracy, putting herself and others in danger.

Release Year: 1993

Rating: 6.4/10 (31,946 voted)

Critic's Score: 50/100

Alan J. Pakula

Stars: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard

Two Supreme Court Justices have been killed. Now a college professor, who clerked for one of the two men, who's also having an affair with one of his students, is given a brief by her, that states who probably, wanted to see these two men dead. He then gives it to one of his friends, who works for the FBI. When the FBI director reads it, he is fascinated by it. One of the president's men who read it, is afraid that if it ever got out, the president could be smeared. So, he advises the president to tell the director to drop it, which he does. But later the professor and the girl were out and he was drunk and when he refused to give her the keys she stepped out of the car. When he started it, it blew up. She then discovers that her place has been burglarized and what was taken were her computer and her disks. Obviously, her brief has someone agitated. She then turns to her boyfriend's friend at the FBI…

Writers: John Grisham, Alan J. Pakula


Julia Roberts

Darby Shaw

Denzel Washington

Gray Grantham

Sam Shepard

Thomas Callahan

John Heard

Gavin Vereek

Tony Goldwyn

Fletcher Coal

James Sikking

FBI Director Denton Voyles

(as James B. Sikking)

William Atherton

Bob Gminski

Robert Culp


Stanley Tucci


Hume Cronyn

Justice Rosenberg

John Lithgow

Smith Keen

Anthony Heald

Marty Velmano

Nicholas Woodeson


Stanley Anderson

Edwin Sneller

John Finn

Matthew Barr

Two Supreme Court Justices have been assassinated. One lone law student has stumbled upon the truth. An investigative journalist wants her story. Everybody else wants her dead.

Release Date: 17 December 1993

Filming Locations: Tulane University – 6823 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Opening Weekend: $16,600,000

Gross: $195,000,000

Technical Specs


Did You Know?


Although the Tulane Law School has moved to a new building since this film was released, the room where Julia Roberts and Sam Shepard meet for class early in the move is still a classroom: Jones Hall Rm. 102.


Revealing mistakes:
As the camera panes over the dead body of Chief Justice Rosenberg, he is still breathing.


[first lines]

Justice Rosenberg:
Any of those signs got my name on 'em?

Gray Grantham:
Quite a few.

Justice Rosenberg:
What do they say?

Gray Grantham:
The usual: Death to Rosenberg, Retire Rosenberg, Cut off the oxygen.

Justice Rosenberg:
That's my favorite. Of course you, Mr Grantham, did pretty good by me your last time out: Rosenberg equals the government over business, the individual over government, the environment over everything. And the Indians? Oh, give 'em whatever they want.

Gray Grantham:
Well with all due respects sir, that wasn't my line, that was a quote.

Justice Rosenberg:
From one of your unnamed senior White House officials; senior White House son of a bitch I should have said, who got in there by stirring up these people, one against the other. It never fails to amaze me what a man will do to get into the Oval Office.

User Review

Good Suspense — For the Intelligent Movie-Goer

Rating: 8/10

I enjoyed this film very much. It is well acted, and has plenty of star
power, with great performances from Roberts and Washington. The story is
compelling, and the cinematography lends itself to excellent suspense.
However, many moviegoers (including myself) will find elements of the plot
confusing and hard to follow. There are a great number of characters, and
it is often difficult to tell who is who — most of the "bad guys" dress
alike and have similar hair, so distinguishing them becomes challenging.
This may be a minor flaw in either casting or costume, making the characters
somewhat undistinguishable. However, it also makes the plot quite
intriguing, as the intelligent moviegoer becomes entangled at guessing just
exactly who is associated with who, and so on. Still an excellent suspense
movie — if you like other Grisham movies (The Firm, the Rainmaker, etc.)
you will like The Pelican Brief. But be warned: watch the film in an
attentive state, and be prepared to think a lot. If you are a lazy,
sit-back-and-relax type of viewer, this may not be the film for