If you’re ever stuck watching The Pelican Brief, you can amuse yourself wondering if the film would be better had Pakula shot it 1.85 as opposed to Panavision. Pakula shoots it empty Panavision, the right and left sides of the frame empty for easier pan-and-scanning. It’s an inexplicable choice from Pakula, but not as inexplicable as him doing a Grisham adaptation in the first place (wait, never mind… money). It’s the modern Hollywood version of his paranoia trilogy (which was seventies Hollywood and, therefore, quite different).
The film is a disastrous piece of garbage. It’s boring, it’s long, it’s stupid—James Horner is just recycling scores again. There’s nothing like a Julia Roberts movie with Star Trek II music.
It’s also not a real conspiracy thriller. All of Roberts’s fears are validated… ad nauseam. Of course, since it’s a Grisham movie, it’s unlikely, but uncertainty might’ve improved the film.
Roberts is terrible. She’s supposed to smart in Pelican Brief, which is hilarious. It’s absurd to think she might have even found the LSAT testing room.
Denzel Washington’s great, in Warner’s attempt to turn him into a marquee star. But John Lithgow (as his boss) is horrendous—and Lithgow’s constant concerns over a racial discrimination suit are painful.
The supporting casting is phenomenal. Robert Culp’s good as the stupidest president ever. John Heard’s good, Stanley Tucci’s wasted. James Sikking is good. William Atherton and Anthony Heald are wasted in small roles. Sam Shepard is slumming.
It’s a dreadful film.
Directed by Alan J. Pakula; screenplay by Pakula, based on the novel by John Grisham; director of photography, Stephen Goldblatt; edited by Tom Rolf and Trudy Ship; music by James Horner; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Pieter Jan Brugge and Pakula; released by Warner Bros.
Starring 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), William Atherton (Bob Gminski), Stanley Tucci (Khamel), Hume Cronyn (Justice Rosenberg), John Lithgow (Smith Keen), Anthony Heald (Marty Velmano), Nicholas Woodeson (Stump), Stanley Anderson (Edwin Sneller), John Finn (Matthew Barr), Cynthia Nixon (Alice Stark), Jake Weber (Garcia) and Robert Culp as the President of the United States.