11 April 2009 | Mr_PCM
It's all been seen before
The 1993 film with Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington still in the formation years of their careers – so this is certainly if nothing else a curiosity piece seeing how these megastar A-listers performed before they truly reached the top. John Grisham novels will generally make for a reasonably solid if unspectacular film, with just sufficient meat for serious actors to get their teeth into, and the Pelican Brief is no exception to this rule.
When two senior judges are murdered, twenty-four year old law student Darby Shaw (Roberts) looks into the case and her suspicions somehow make their way to the FBI – suspicions that prove potentially damaging to the US government. Now she and journalist Gray Grantham (Washington) must try to stay alive long enough to ensure what they have uncovered is told to the world.
Few do distress-turned-determination better than Julia Roberts, but after a slow start followed by a great deal of panicked running and hiding, interest wanes somewhat. Meanwhile Denzel Washington is given so little to do in the first hour to the point he is almost forgotten. Further, it takes so long for us to actually discover what was written in the eponymous brief and for the leads to meet and agree to take action, that the audience's desire to get to the bottom of the 'mystery' is definitely lessened. However, once the two do start working together in the latter half interest does pick up, but not enough to retrieve the film from its ponderous start. Roberts and Washington do the job required of them but seem to treat it as little more than a day at the office – there is very little of the energy we have come to expect from Roberts, or Washington in particular. The secondary roles are filled slightly better – John Lithgow in particular a standout newspaper editor, and watch out for a very young Cynthia Nixon (Miranda from Sex in the City) as Julia Roberts' student friend. However, Stanley Tucci as one of a number of shadowy government figures on the tail of the leads should have stuck to the shadows more. There is little of the slickness, the grit and pace characteristic of later John Grisham adaptations such as Runaway Jury.
Legal thrillers about corrupt government prepared to kill to save their own position have been done so often (and so often much better) that little feels fresh about this Grisham adaptation, to the extent that were it not for the presence of A-listers Roberts and Washington this film would have long been forgotten. As it is, the film does not have enough thrills to save it from the fate of the DVD bargain basement bin. If you wanted to see this, it would probably be cheaper to buy than rent this film – and it would make a nice coaster! OK for a throwaway (literally) Saturday night film, but not memorable in any way. It's all been seen and done before.