2017 will see me watching some films that I have never seen before and then writing about them. It will be a series of columns cleverly called, “2017 First Watch.”
The Pelican Brief both ebodies a lot of what made nineties star-driven vehicles unique and compelling while also serving as an example for how movies heavilly driven by assassins and whatnot can stand to feel a bit more ordinary and less choreographed.
The heart of this story is a wonderfully subdued performance by Julia Roberts. She plays a clever and intellectually curious law student who uncovers the unlikely reason/source behind the assassinations of two supreme court justices. This discovery sets off a chain of events that forces Roberts to go on the run for her life.
Roberts masterfully balances allowing herself to be vulnerable while also gradually mustering the extraordinary will required to see these events to their needed end. It was a tremendously nuanced performance that was easily one of the best of her career.
Her character is eventually aided by Denzel Washington’s Washington
Post Herald ace White House reporter. Denzel does not get nearly as much to do as Roberts, but he effortlessly glides through the film with all of his usual charm and charisma. That is never a bad thing.
Both leads really capture the near-undefinable quality that was almost ever-present in nineties films. Our leads are flawed but are inherently noble and constantly surrounded by allies who simply are too cynical to be heroes in our stories. The sincerity of our leads is never questioned, and the film always portrays it in the most sincere manner possible.
The film is also marked by its time period in how it shoots and portrays the physical combat and chase scenes. Nothing feels pre-choreographed. No one is a superhero spy with impeccable technique. It is always messy and undeniably human. Not *every* film needs to be shot this way, but it absolutely gave the film some additional charm.
Recommendation: The Pelican Brief was a pleasant surprise and absolutely worth going back and checking out. It also had the additional charm of showing the sitting President of the United States pushing the FBI director to end the investigation of a Presidential ally. Woooo.