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The Pelican Brief (1993)

aka The Pelican Brief

"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."

Directed By: 
Details: 137 mins · English · PG-13 (USA)


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"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."


Two Supreme Court justices are assassinated by the professional assassin "Sam" Khamel (Stanley Tucci).

While the viewer is led to believe that the justices are killed by a radical right to life group because they are pro-choice, Tulane University Law School student Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) suspects the real motive might be different. She writes a legal brief, and shows it to her law professor, mentor and lover Thomas Callahan (Sam Shepard). He gives a copy to his friend Gavin Verheek (John Heard) at the FBI.

Callahan is killed by a car bomb; Darby escapes because she would not get into the car with her drunk lover. She is attacked by an unknown assailant. Realizing that her brief was accurate, she goes into hiding and reaches out to Verheek for help.

Political reporter Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington) is contacted by an informant who calls himself "Garcia" who claims to have information about the assassinations. "Garcia" disappears. Darby contacts Grantham and mentions the Pelican brief; Grantham discovers the information Darby discloses has validity.

Darby finds out that her computer, disks and files are gone from her apartment. Soon after, she is attacked again, but again escapes. She contacts Verheek and arranges to meet him, but he is murdered by Khamel, who then goes to the meeting impersonating Verheek. Before Khamel can kill her he is shot and killed by an unknown agent.

Darby contacts Grantham again and agrees to meet him in New York City. There she gives him the details of her brief.

The legal brief speculates that the assassinations were committed on behalf of Victor Mattiece, an oil tycoon who wants to drill for oil on a Louisiana marshland which is a major habitat of an endangered species of pelicans. A court case on appeal is expected to make its way to the Supreme Court. The two slain justices had a history of environmentalism — their only common view — and thus Darby surmised that Mattiece hoped to turn the case in his favor by eliminating the two justices. Grantham tells her about "Garcia", and together they discover that "Garcia" is Curtis Morgan (Jake Weber), a lawyer in the oil and gas division of White & Blazevich in Washington.

Darby visits White & Blazevich, pretending to have an appointment with Morgan. She is told that he had been killed, and suspects that this was related to the information he had. She and Grantham visit his widow, who gives them a key to a safe deposit box.

Darby visits the bank to retrieve the contents of the box. After barely escaping death by a car bomb, they reach the Washington Herald building, where they review the documents and a videotape recovered from Morgan's box. The tape confirms Morgan's discovery that Mattiece ordered the assassination of the justices and the documents confirm the accusations. With this evidence Grantham writes his story. He gives the FBI a chance to comment, and FBI Director Voyles (James B. Sikking) confirms that the Pelican Brief was delivered to the White House; off the record, he reveals that the President ordered the FBI to "back off", that CIA agents were investigating Mattiece, and that one of them killed Khamel to save Darby's life. A plane is arranged for Darby to flee the country.

The movie ends with Darby at her hideaway, watching Grantham being interviewed on TV, where it is revealed that Mattiece and two of his lawyers have been indicted in federal court, the President's chief of staff has resigned, and the President himself will not run for office again. Grantham deflects speculation that Darby is fictional, but does agree that she is "almost" too good to be true. Darby smiles as the screen cuts to black.

Release Dates:

Theatrical : 1993-12-17 : United States of America

DVD : 1997-08-27

DVD : 1997-06-25

Blu-ray disc : 2009-02-10