The Pelican Brief (1993)

Genres - Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Action Thriller, Paranoid Thriller, Political Thriller  |   Release Date - Dec 17, 1993 (USA)  |   Run Time - 141 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Brian J. Dillard

For his penultimate film, the late thriller veteran Alan J. Pakula wrote, produced, and directed this overlong but engrossing suspense piece, which could have been 30 minutes shorter and still had time for a love scene between stars Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington. Instead, we get an emotive hug and a chaste kiss, but every other nuance and plot point is obsessed over in detail, leaving us with a cross between a police procedural and a political page-turner, replete with shadowy conspiracies within conspiracies. Washington and Roberts play to type, but turn in solid performances -- him as the virtuous, overachieving journalist, her as the toothy ingenue. Each gets at least one short, great moment -- Washington when Grantham blows a heated chase because a cabbie won't stop for an African-American in sweats, Roberts when Darby watches a loved one blow up before her very eyes. The real fun, though, lies not in watching the stars who must play it straight, but in savoring Stanley Tucci, portraying a chameleon-like assassin whose character owes more than a little to Edward Fox in Day of the Jackal, and Tony Goldwyn, playing the same shifty bastard he's been cast as, ever since his role in 1990's Ghost. Continuing the transformation from leading man to character actor that would eventually lead to his decayed, corrupt cop character on The Sopranos, John Heard turns in solid work as the FBI lawyer who tries to help Darby. Throw in John Lithgow as a testy newspaper editor and a rogue's gallery of imperious lawyers, PR vampires, and picturesque heavies, and you've got a fun, pulpy ride that takes itself just seriously enough to convince.