Film: The Pelican Brief

The Pelican Brief is a novel by John Grisham published in 1992 about a law student named Darby Shaw who writes a brief regarding the assassinations of two Supreme Court justices. After showing it to her mentor/lover and his friend, she goes on the run after both of them ended up killed. Darby seeks help from a newspaper reporter named Gray Grantham and together, the two set out to prove the brief correct.

A film adaptation of the book was released in 1993, starring Julia Roberts as Darby and Denzel Washington as Gray.

Tropes seen in this film include:

  • Amoral Attorney: Par for the course in a John Grisham story. An evil law firm not unlike one in another Grisham work factors in as minions to the Big Bad.
  • Car Bomb: How the villains intend to kill Darby—but get her boyfriend instead. Also how they try to kill her and Gray in the film. Luckily, when Gray tries to start the car, Darby recognizes the sound of the faltering engine from the first incident and is able to stop him.
  • Follow That Car: Gray tries to do this in the film, only to have the cab he intended to get into drive off without him (possibly spooked by the sight of a black man in a hoodie). Then it's inverted later in the film when he does get a cab, yet quickly realizes he's the one being followed.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Big Bad is revealed by the eponymous brief to be an oil baron hoping to influence the court in a pending appeal of an environmental lawsuit.
  • He Knows Too Much: The bad guys are out to kill Darby (and later, Gray along with her) when her legal brief pinpoints the precise reason why the two Supreme Court Justices were murdered and assume she figured out their plan.
  • Hello, Attorney!: Or law student, in Darby's case.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard/Laser-Guided Karma: After failing to kill Darby with another Car Bomb, in the film the villain tries to run her down in his own car. . .and crashes into the one he rigged to explode. KABOOM.
  • Hot Scoop: Gray
  • Magnificent Bastard: FBI Director Denton Voyles would probably qualify in the book. Fletcher Coal, the President's Chief of Staff, is a wannabe who fails to rise above Corrupt Bureaucrat level.
  • Race Lift: Gray is white in the book, black in the movie, leading to some Unfortunate Implications when he and Darby do not get together, as they do in the novel and no doubt would have in the film had they been the same race.
    • Some, including Denzel himself, pointed out that this might also just be a case of Reality Ensues—it would have seemed quite tacky of Darby to take on a new boyfriend so soon after the death of her last one.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: The brief in question was pure conjecture, 100% free of substantiating proof, before the villains heard of it and tried to have her killed to hush it up.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Darby and her College Law teacher. It's what gets him killed in the first place.