Article by Makki Tahir
This article is part of a series to help students improve their advocacy skills and also bust some movie myths. The Student Lawyer aims to provide students with a number of resources to help improve their employability. We decided to do legal movie reviews to give you some tips on how to be better lawyers through an engaging medium (i.e. through films and movies), that many of us enjoy quite regularly. If you haven’t seen any of the movies that we post about, please go ahead and watch them, you will not be disappointed. It also helps to have something to do during this lock-down period and the bonus is, it can play a role in helping you determine whether you enjoy the thrill of being in court as a barrister or prefer the solicitor route!
The Pelican Brief (1993) is a legal and political thriller based upon the book of the same name by John Grisham. The film stars Denzel Washington as Gray Grantham, a reporter for the Washington Herald and Julia Roberts, an eager law student caught up in a political cover-up. The film concerns the assassination of two Supreme Court Justices and the conspiracy behind their assassination. The film gets its name from a theory written up by Roberts’ Darby Shaw during the film and it puts her in the middle of a huge conspiracy that could go all the way to the top.
The film shows us the relationship between the executive and the judiciary in true Hollywood fashion. It seeks to paint a view of the judiciary that would raise many eyebrows and the film has a sub-plot of environmentalism and the power of precedent. The Supreme Court Justices are assassinated because of their beliefs and their rulings on a previous case that would have led to a wealthy individual losing a significant amount of money. The assassinations were a preemptive measure taken to stop two Justices of the Supreme Court from ruling on an oil drilling operation. The individuals that ordered the assassination looked at the previous rulings of the judges and felt that they would rule in the same way again. This is an important factor in compiling a case, it is important to know what the judge may question you on during a trial. A good idea would be to note down any questions that you can think of and then include the answers to those questions in your submissions to the court. This can also come in handy for mooting competitions because interruptions are to be expected. Also, a piece of advice that I was given during my internship with the Crown Office was try to look at the argument from the other side and find its weak points. After you have poked holes in your own argument proceed to cover up those weak points and your argument will become stronger and more logically sound.
An important point to note in relation to this film is, it does not explore the true nature of the judiciary. It is a film and you will have to suspend your disbelief greatly to get through this. Also, it is an American film and they place a huge emphasis on allowing the legislature to dictate the composition of the Supreme Court. This is not the case in the United Kingdom, as members of the Supreme Court are appointed by Her Majesty on the advice of the Prime Minister. However, the Prime Minister must recommend the name given to them by the special selection committee under Section 26 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.
If you haven’t seen The Pelican Brief, I would recommend that you watch it. It has an intriguing plot and it also has enough explosions to make Michael Bay salivate. We also get to see Stanley Tucci in various disguises. Also, if you haven’t read the book, I would recommend it because you will not want to put it down. Next week, we will review another film adaptation of a John Grisham novel, The Client; starring Tommy Lee Jones and Susan Sarandon.
This is the fifth article in a series of articles that The Student Lawyer will be publishing on films about lawyers and court cases, we want to give you the content that you want, if you have any recommendations, please contact The Student Lawyer or Makki Tahir on LinkedIn.