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Mapping the Filming Locations of The Pelican Brief

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It has been 20 years since the release of The Pelican Brief; a political thriller directed by Alan J. Pakula. In 1993, the movie came across as an interesting political thriller that felt a bit like paranoid fantasy. Now, it feels like an uncomfortably plausible political coup. When two Supreme Court Justices are murdered, Tulane Law Student Darby Shaw (Julia Roberts) puts together a legal brief presenting an "unlikely little theory" about the killings. With her life in danger, Darby contacts Washington Herald (cough, Post, cough) reporter, Gray Grantham (Denzel Washington). Together they publish the story and repercussions of the shocking murders reach to the highest levels of government.

For Alan J. Pakula, director of 1976 movie All the President's Men, themes of fighting the system, corruption and politics are familiar territory, as is Washington, D.C. Local gems in The Pelican Brief are the water feature in the Intelsat building, Denzel's Howard University t-shirt and the fact that even he can't catch a cab in D.C.

Observations: The Pelican Brief film differs from the John Grisham novel in that Darby and Gray do not enter into a relationship over the course of the story. The character of Gray Grantham as conceived by John Grisham in the 1992 novel, is white. When Julia Roberts was tapped for the movie she personally requested Denzel Washington as her co-star saying, "he did amazing things with a character that didn't look like much on paper. What more could you want?'' The question of whether an interracial relationship presented on screen was now raised. Denzel Washington asked that the romantic relationship be removed for fear of offending audiences, both black and white. Much has been made of this but it's refreshing to see great interactions between a male and female character without needing the relationship to be anything other than platonic friendship.

Here are a few local spots of note that pop up over the course of the movie.


· Will It Be Denzel's Day? [Newsweek via The Daily Beast]
· Alan J. Pakula [Wikipedia]
· The Pelican Brief [Wikipedia]
· Intelsat [Wikipedia]
· The PNC Riggs Collection: Riggs Bank and the D.C. Community [GWU]
· Riggs Bank [Wikipedia]
· KNOTT: Neighbors fight alcohol-dispensing grocer [Washington Times]
· The Citadel [Official Site]
· Photos Released of Windowless Roller Rink Apartments [CDC]
Greer Gladney

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1. Georgetown University Law Center

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600 New Jersey Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001

It's interesting that they film the study rooms and random nooks and crannies. This background makes the audience feel like the characters know what they are talking about and actually know where they are. [Photo by Flickr user NCinDC.

2. U Street Metro Station

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1240 U St. NW
Washington, DC 20001

This shows D.C. prior to gentrification when U Street wasn’t where every hipster wanted to live. There weren’t even hipsters here at the time. [Photo by David Gaines]

3. Washington National Cathedral

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3101 Wisconsin Ave NW
Washington, DC 20016
(202) 537-6200
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This is one local spot that can’t be filmed enough. It’s truly beautiful seen from a less commonly viewed angle. [Photo by Corey Seeman]

4. Intelsat Corporation

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3400 International Drive Northwest, Washington
D.C., DC 20008

A combination of space age and modern age, the Intelsat building, until recently, was rarely seen from the inside. However, now that they are moving their headquarters to Tyson’s Corner, people will be able to see it without the help of this film. [Photo by Flickr user NCinDC]

5. Riggs National Bank

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1503 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20005

This building is another Washington landmark. Founded in 1836, the bank retired its name and merged with PNC in 2005. The bank was a D.C. institution whose 169 year history included close connections to American and international politics. Notable moments in the history of Riggs Bank include financing the invention of the telegraph and lending money for the U.S. Government purchase of Alaska. There are also ties to Augusto Pinochet and the Mexican-American War. [Photo by Wally Gobetz]

6. The Citadel

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1631 Kalorama Road Northwest, Washington
D.C., DC 20009

This building now houses a Harris Teeter and will soon play host to windowless apartments, but it used to be called The Citadel Motion Picture Center and was utilized as a sound stage for this film.

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1. Georgetown University Law Center

600 New Jersey Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001

It's interesting that they film the study rooms and random nooks and crannies. This background makes the audience feel like the characters know what they are talking about and actually know where they are. [Photo by Flickr user NCinDC.

600 New Jersey Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001

2. U Street Metro Station

1240 U St. NW, Washington, DC 20001

This shows D.C. prior to gentrification when U Street wasn’t where every hipster wanted to live. There weren’t even hipsters here at the time. [Photo by David Gaines]

1240 U St. NW
Washington, DC 20001

3. Washington National Cathedral

3101 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016

This is one local spot that can’t be filmed enough. It’s truly beautiful seen from a less commonly viewed angle. [Photo by Corey Seeman]

3101 Wisconsin Ave NW
Washington, DC 20016

4. Intelsat Corporation

3400 International Drive Northwest, Washington, D.C., DC 20008

A combination of space age and modern age, the Intelsat building, until recently, was rarely seen from the inside. However, now that they are moving their headquarters to Tyson’s Corner, people will be able to see it without the help of this film. [Photo by Flickr user NCinDC]

3400 International Drive Northwest, Washington
D.C., DC 20008

5. Riggs National Bank

1503 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005

This building is another Washington landmark. Founded in 1836, the bank retired its name and merged with PNC in 2005. The bank was a D.C. institution whose 169 year history included close connections to American and international politics. Notable moments in the history of Riggs Bank include financing the invention of the telegraph and lending money for the U.S. Government purchase of Alaska. There are also ties to Augusto Pinochet and the Mexican-American War. [Photo by Wally Gobetz]

1503 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20005

6. The Citadel

1631 Kalorama Road Northwest, Washington, D.C., DC 20009

This building now houses a Harris Teeter and will soon play host to windowless apartments, but it used to be called The Citadel Motion Picture Center and was utilized as a sound stage for this film.

1631 Kalorama Road Northwest, Washington
D.C., DC 20009