The Pelican Brief Movie Poster Image

The Pelican Brief



Tense Grisham-based thriller is well cast but talky.
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1993
  • Running Time: 141 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

As in any political thriller, there are plenty of "bad guys."


Characters killed.


One brief scene features a murder in a porno theater.


Some profanity.


A hotel chain is mentioned.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this film is relatively free of foul language, violence, or explicit sex. But one brief scene features a murder in a porno theater; the main character is shown in a heavy clinch with a boyfriend, and several characters are killed over the course of the film (though gore is at a minimum).

Kids say

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What's the story?

Based on the novel by John Grisham, THE PELICAN BRIEF follows the story of Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts), who gets more than she bargains for when she allows her law prof/boyfriend (Sam Shepard) to show a buddy in the CIA her paper presenting theories on the recent murders of two Supreme Court justices. Before too long, everyone who reads her "Pelican Brief" is bumped off. Some crooked powers that be decide Darby knows too much and should be killed too. Only Washington reporter Greg Grantham (Denzel Washington) can save her by exposing the villains.

Is it any good?


Grisham is known for delivering great big, bloated political thrillers; at 141 minutes, it shows in this mightily involved thriller. The Pelican Brief is low on colorful villains and memorable visuals and loaded with grim, grey scenes where characters are doing research or having conversations. The actors are well cast and effective. Viewers will appreciate the fact that the complex plot isn't dumbed down, though it's a rather disappointing letdown of a film from director Alan Pakula, who made the classic All the President's Men.

Due to its lack of onscreen violence, sex or nudity, the film is a good choice for families who like political thrillers with a minimum of adults-only features. However, the action is relatively slow-paced, the plot is complicated, and the characters are very talky, making this movie a bore for younger kids or those who require a lot of whizz-bang to stay interested.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the way that political thrillers dramatize events that could have happened in real life. Conversations on the role of the whistle-blower, and the responsibility of citizens to speak up when they see wrongdoing, might also be sparked by this movie.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 17, 1993
DVD/Streaming release date:August 22, 1997
Cast:Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, Sam Shepard
Director:Alan J. Pakula
Studio:Warner Independent
Run time:141 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:momentary language and some violence

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What parents and kids say

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Kid, 12 years old April 9, 2008

Mature legal thriller

I saw this movie, and really liked it a lot. A few violent scenes a little disarming, but not too bad. Good movie! :)))
Adult Written byTyceGN December 30, 2008

Great Political Thriller

This is a great movie and very enjoyable if you like political/legal thrillers. It is, however, very long, and therefore younger kids or any child with a shorter attention span will lose interest. There really is pretty mild language (it does say the F* word once). Violence is mainly only implied, but there is SOME blood and quite a few people die. The scene where a murder takes place in a Porno theater has sexual noises in the background, but that is as bad as it gets. So as far as sexuality goes, it is mild. Overall, if your kids can grasp the concepts of what is going on, it is a good movie for them. As an adult, me and my wife really enjoyed it.