The Pelican Brief (September 3/01)
In The Pelican Brief, Julia Roberts plays Darby Shaw, a young law student who, after two Supreme Court Justices are murdered, puts together a brief outlining her theory of who's behind the killings. Now, she's on the run with various good and bad guys after her (gee, wonder if her theory was actually correct?).
The Pelican Brief is based upon the novel by John Grisham, and serves as a Cliff's notes edition of the book. Most of the plot points are touched upon, but that's it. The extensive character development, the slow-build before the action starts - that's all gone. But really, with a book as long and detailed as The Pelican Brief, it's just not realistic to expect the same sort of intimacy one receives when reading a novel.
There is a lot to recommend about The Pelican Brief, though. Roberts, for one. This is one of her few non-cutesy roles and she really pulls it off nicely. Darby Shaw is a character that needs to exude confidence at the outset of the flick, but slowly lose her self-control as these terrible events start happening around her. Equally good is Denzel Washington as Gray Grantham, the reporter that eventually hooks up with Darby and has to ensure that his star witness isn't murdered or caught. An excellent ensemble rounds out the cast, including everyone from Tony Goldwyn as an evil Presidential aide, John Heard as a hapless Justice Department agent, and Hume Cronyn as a controversial Supreme Court Justice.
The movie was written and directed by the late Alan J. Pakula, who was sort of an expert at these kinds of flicks (he also did All the President's Men). He dives right into the action, allowing the audience only about 20-minutes of calm-before-the-storm, which might not be enough but really, who wants to see a 3-hour version of The Pelican Brief?