The Pelican Brief (1993) Poster


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  • Following the assassinations of two radically-different U.S. Supreme Court justices, Tulane University law student Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) researches their backgrounds to see whether she can find any similarities that might tie them together and explain why they were killed. She finds that they were both avid supporters of environmental issues. Darby writes up her findings, which become known as The Pelican Brief, and gives them to her professor (and lover) Thomas Callahan (Sam Shepard). He passes it on to his friend Gavin Vereek (John Heard), a lawyer with the FBI, who shares it with FBI director Denton Voyles (James Sikking), who eventually passes it on to White House Chief of Staff Fletcher Coal (Tony Goldwyn). Soon thereafter, Callahan and Vereek are murdered, and Darby fears that she's going to be next, so she teams up with Washington Herald reporter Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington), another friend of Callahan's, in order to make her findings known. Edit

  • The Pelican Brief (1992) is a novel written by American author John Grisham. The book was adapted for the screen by American film maker Alan J. Pakula, who also directed the movie. Edit

  • Darby knew the car was going to blow up because it failed to start right away. She had noticed this same thing happening to Thomas Callahan's car right before it exploded. Edit



The FAQ items below may give away important plot points.

  • Darby's brief implicates wealthy oil speculator Victor Mattiece. She surmises that Mattiece was interested in drilling for oil in southern Louisiana but was stopped from doing so because the oilfield bordered on a wetland area where the endangered Louisiana brown pelican was nesting. The court ruled against Mattiece, and he had to stop. He's now in the process of preparing an appeal, which will hit the Supreme Court in 3-5 years. It's Darby's theory that Mattiece ordered the assassinations of Justices Rosenberg (Hume Cronyn) and Jensen (Ralph Cosham) in order to get two other justices appointed who would be more friendly to his oil ventures in the protected wetlands. Because Mattiece and the President (Robert Culp) are also good friends and Mattiece is, by far, the biggest contributor to the President's election campaign, the White House fears that the President will become linked to Mattiece's doings, thus ruining his chances for re-election. Edit

  • Mattiece and his lawyers wanted to be sure that Rosenberg died while the current President was in office and could appoint another justice sympathetic to oil development. Because the appeal wouldn't hit the courts for 3 to 5 years and there was uncertainty as to whether or not the current President would get re-elected, this was the most expedient way to serve their cause. Edit

  • Khamel (Stanley Tucci), the assassin sent to kill Darby, was shot by an independent contract operative calling himself "Rupert" (Christopher Murray). Rupert, hired by the CIA to protect Darby, makes his first appearance just after Callahan's car explodes. He tells Darby that he is a detective with the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and allows her to sit in his car. Later, Darby learns that there is no Rupert with the NOPD, yet Rupert continues to follow and protect her. Edit

  • Darby and Grantham retrieve the tape and affidavit from the safety deposit box of White & Blazevich employee Curtis Morgan (Jake Weber), the same individual who identified himself to Grantham as "Garcia". They take the items to Grantham's editor, Smith Keen (John Lithgow). On the tape, Morgan admits to finding a memo written by W&B senior partner Marty Velmano (Anthony Heald) in which Velmano suggests that Justices Rosenberg and Jensen be "retired". The Herald decides to go to press with the information. Grantham contacts Velmano, Coal, and Voyles to forewarn them and to give them a chance to make comments. Velmano emphatically denies everything, Coal informs the President, and Voyles shows up at The Herald to meet Darby and to make his statement. Voyles agrees to get Darby out of the county and gives her the use of his private jet. Soon thereafter, Darby and Grantham are flown to an undisclosed location. Darby kisses and hugs Grantham goodbye, and he flies back to the States, while Darby goes on alone. In the final scene, Grantham is being interviewed on television. The interviewer informs him that Mattiece and his lawyers have been indicted, Coal has resigned as White House Chief of Staff, and the President is strongly indicating that he won't run for re-election. When asked the whereabouts of Darby Shaw, Grantham replies, "That's a question for Darby Shaw," and smiles cryptically. The interviewer speculates that Darby might be just a figment of Grantham's imagination; again, Grantham smiles cryptically. Meanwhile, on some island (presumably in the Caribbean - apparently filmed at Montecito, which is outside Santa Barbara), Darby is watching the interview. She smiles, too. Edit

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