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The Pelican Brief(1993)
A New Orleans law student finds herself embroiled in a terrifying web of intrigue extending to the highest levels of government after she writes a speculative legal brief exposing the activities of a powerful oil magnate.
For more about The Pelican Brief and the The Pelican Brief Blu-ray release, see the The Pelican Brief Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on February 15, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard, John Heard, Tony Goldwyn, James B. Sikking
Director: Alan J. Pakula
» See full cast & crew
The Pelican Brief Blu-ray Review
The Grisham equivalent of warm, flat soda...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, February 15, 2009
After revisiting my favorite film based on author John Grisham's legal fiction, the sobering and powerful A Time to Kill, I'm left with the unfortunate task of reviewing one of the novelist's most tiresome and unsuccessful adaptations: The Pelican Brief. Never mind that the film stumbles out of the gate with a heavy-handed, slow-paced screenplay... never mind that its supposed thrills lack basic suspense and intensity... and never mind that its jargoned chatter results in little more than a save-the-environment pep rally. I simply have a difficult time understanding how any drama that pairs two Hollywood powerhouses like Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts could be so transparent, tedious, and, above all else, soulless.
When two free-thinking Supreme Court justices are assassinated, a Tulane University law student named Darby Shaw (a woefully bland Julia Roberts) begins to think their political views led to their deaths. Documenting her troubling findings in a paper, she finds herself on the run when her theories catch the attention of a well-connected, oil industry fat-cat who wants nothing more than to silence her accusations. Even though everyone she turns to ends up dead, she eventually earns the company and assistance of a Washington Herald investigative reporter named Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington... doing his best Denzel Washington impersonation). As the two dig deeper into the circumstances, they uncover a complex conspiracy that extends all the way to the Oval Office itself.
I can't decide who to blame for The Pelican Brief. Washington and Roberts deliver two terribly underwhelming performances (that some would argue are intentionally understated), both of which fail to engage the audience or enlist its investment. With each passing shot, I found myself staring at the same perplexed stares, parted-mouth pauses, and expressionless brows as the next. I suspect the pair either weren't passionate about their roles, uncomfortable with each other on set, or were being encouraged to hit the very notes they were hitting. Which leads me to writer/director Alan J. Pakula (The Devil's Own, another wonderfully cast, potentially exciting thriller that disappointed the masses). Lingering scenes, inconsequential subplots, redundant discoveries, and an unwieldy 141-minute runtime lead me to believe a more talented hand would have helmed a more intriguing adaptation. He not only strips Grisham's work of its inherent bite, he manages to make Washington and Roberts fall flat... which any fan of Man on Fire or Erin Brokovich will tell you isn't easy to do.
Nodding off and checking my watch isn't how I like to spend my Friday evenings, but that's precisely what happened when I plowed through The Pelican Brief. While I'm sure there are people out there who appreciate its methodical investigation, tangent-prone storyline, and obvious message points, I couldn't get past Washington and Roberts' unnervingly dry performances. When a particularly fluid supporting cast overshadows such high-paid leads, you know there's a problem. When it happens for two-and-a-half hours, you know you're in for something much worse. Pakula's thriller is an average Grisham adaptation at best and one that should be rented long before a purchase is ever considered.
The Pelican Brief Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Pelican Brief's dull and meandering thrills may not hold your attention, but Warner's attractive 1080p/VC-1 transfer will. More than just a casual catalog success, the image forgoes boosted colors and heightened contrast in favor of a a more natural, filmic presentation. While the palette is admittedly lifeless at times, it boasts near-perfect skintones, impressive black levels, and an assortment of relatively vivid primaries. Detail is somewhat soft in long distance shots, but close-ups look much better. Textures have been decently preserved, edge definition is pleasing, and delineation reveals far more in the shadows than the previously-released DVD. An unfortunate dose of noise reduction (DNR) and edge enhancement spoils things ever so slightly, but I'm getting the distinct impression that Warner has made the decision to employ both techniques to catalog transfers regardless of whether they actually need it or not.
At least the image is clean. Artifacting, source noise, and banding have all but been eliminated, and only a handful of establishing nighttime shots suffer from black crush. In light of the DNR application, the grain field is still visible if you look closely, but it occasional has a soupy appearance that's noticeable from time to time. Even so, The Pelican Brief's transfer is a strong entry in the studio's catalog canon. Fans will be more than pleased with the obvious upgrade and newcomers will have something to enjoy while waiting for the credits to roll.
The Pelican Brief Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Pelican Brief also features a competent Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track that, while conversational in nature, nevertheless delivers a reliable soundfield and convincing acoustics. Considering the majority of the film is spent listening to two characters whisper back and forth, the sonic experience is an immersive one, luring the listener into quiet spaces like cramped hotel rooms and noisier, more involving locales like the Washington Herald offices. Subtle (albeit arguably weak) ambience is present throughout and the soundscape is loaded with fairly exacting effects. The LFE channel doesn't have much to do (aside from support the occasional gunfire or chase sequence), but it's more than passable when it needs to pipe up. Likewise, dynamics are generally lacking, but exhibit notable range when necessary. If I have any major complaint, it's that accuracy and fidelity are spotty at times, leaving a few scenes sounding cluttered and overwhelmed. Ultimately, The Pelican Brief sounds pretty good... just don't expect anything that approaches a reference level catalog mix.
The Pelican Brief Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Just like its DVD counterpart, the Blu-ray edition of Pelican Brief doesn't offer any significant special features. A standard definition theatrical trailer and a digital copy of the film has been included, but fans will once again have to settle for a barebones release.
The Pelican Brief Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Pelican Brief nearly put me to sleep, leaving me to wonder how casting Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts could actually result in such a plodding flick. It doesn't help that -- at an astonishingly bloated 141 minutes -- the film waddles along without much to do or say. Thankfully, the Blu-ray edition offers a substantial upgrade from the DVD that features an excellent video transfer and a faithful lossless audio track. A lack of supplemental material holds the overall release back, but fans of the film will still be satisfied with the results.
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The Pelican Brief Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Warner Announces Two John Grisham Films - November 26, 2008
Warner Home Video has announced that they will release two John Grisham inspired films 'The Pelican Brief' and 'A Time to Kill' for Blu-ray on February 10th. Both films will come on BD-25s featuring 1080p VC-1 accompanied by 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtracks. The sole ...
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