The only important character omitted by the film is Victor Mattiece, the highly secretive billionaire who is threatened by Darby's investigative work and orders her killing. In the film, Mattiece is frequently mentioned and is the central evil figure, but the audience never sees him. This differs slightly from the book, where Mattiece is described as old, ruthless, and first and foremost, "crazy as hell." The only other character left out of the film is Croft, who performs surveillance for Gray Grantham in the book. In the film, Grantham does his own surveillance and Croft is not missed as his character was not involved in any other parts of the plot. Lastly, several of the lawyers at the powerful firm of White and Blazevich were omitted from the film. They confer briefly at the end of the novel over their failure to cover up the assassinations; one kills himself in despair. There is only one lawyer from this firm included in the movie, and he does not kill himself. Apparently, because the characters were preserved effectively so between book and film, no additional characters were required to fill plot-level gaps.
The film is quite successful in creating the same suspenseful atmosphere found in the novel, largely because the characters have been very well maintained.
Page 2 - Plot
The story line of The Pelican Brief has undergone minor changes in the transition from book to film. It is evident that the film was adapted from Grisham's novel very carefully because there are no noticeable differences in the order of events. Furthermore, all of the major events have been preserved, even down to the exact phrasing of the dialogue in some cases.
The first chapter of the book contains a lengthy discussion set in the Supreme Court before the assassinations of the two Justices has taken place. This was omitted from the film, most likely for reasons of brevity and clarity. As is typical of the relatively few plot-level omissions made in the film, this discussion established setting and was not at all critical to the plot.
Also omitted from the film are the meeting between the assassin Khamel and an agent named 'Luke', the suicide of one of the conspiring lawyers and the reuniting of Gray and Darby at the end. These are typical of the plot-level omissions made for the sake of brevity because they were simply extraneous. The overall story was not affected by these omissions. It is necessary to compare the book and the film in some detail to take notice of these minor changes.
Very little in the way of plot was added to the film. Most notably, though, a chase scene was added to the scene at the bank where Darby retrieves the dead informant's affidavit. This scene was added likely to quicken the pace of the film, to add an obstacle so that the hero and heroine do not simply coast into a successful, happy ending without a bit of work.
Overall, the producers of the film follow the novel's plot remarkably closely, even down to the dialogue level. The novel was easy to follow and a quick read; this quality transfers nicely into the film.
Page 3 - Point of View/Narrator
The point of the view used throughout the book is that of the omniscient third person. The movie is filmed from the same perspective; as in most other films, characters thoughts and attitudes are narrated through their conduct and attitude. Interestingly, the movie switches to the first-person perspective of Darby as she is chased for a small portion of one scene (about 10 seconds). This clipping, although somewhat distracting, was included to heighten the suspense as the armed men chase Darby.
The director consistently portrays Darby as helpless, repeatedly panning out to extreme high-angle shots. In these shots, the director wants us to see Darby becoming very small, easily 'snuffed out' by her more than capable adversaries. Conversely, menacing figures such as the conspiring lawyer Velmano, or the ruthless presidential aide Fletcher Coal, are generally shown in close-up, shot at slightly low angles to give them a overbearing, threatening image. The contrast between the helpless Darby who is constantly on the run and the ruthless and powerful men who are trying to kill her is what creates the air of suspense. The director uses different camera angles to exaggerate this contrast in order to heighten the level of suspense.
More broadly, this story suggests that authority is horribly corrupt, seeking to protect its own interests, regardless of the costs to the individual. The director supports this theme by casting almost all of the characters who are in positions of power as menacing, ruthless, and corrupt.
Page 4: Visual Images and Sound
The novel, being 436 pages in length, is rich with written description and details. As to the actual appearance of the major characters, this does not leave significant room for speculation. Consider Darby Shaw for example. In the novel, she is introduced as an extraordinarily attractive, young law student and described down to her baggy clothing and attractive face. We may be able to speculate as to the color of her eyes, but we know most her important physical characteristics, so little is left to the imagination. Likewise, plenty of information is given so that the reader can form a clear mental image of Thomas Callahan. A law professor with an alcohol addition, he is described as slightly haggard but otherwise quite "liberal-chic-academic." Once again, the actor picked to play his role meets these physical descriptions well.
Besides simply meeting performed notions of physical appearance, the actors do a good job of playing their role, that is, holding their character's demeanor and attitude. Julia Roberts is initially reserved and intelligent as Darby the law student. When she goes on the run, her more assertive and defensive manner fit what somebody who has read the book might expect.
The author of the book describes in rich detail; one can imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of the French Quarter as Darby is chased through the crowds of tourists. The images which I anticipated after reading the novel's descriptions were highly consistent with visual images presented in the films. After reading the novel, certain settings struck me as being bright and exuberant, such as the Riverwalk terrace. Others, like the hotel room where Darby is interviewed, seemed dark and solemn. These moods were matched perfectly by the visual images of settings in the movie, so none of the settings were really inconsistent with what I had anticipated after reading the novel.