Review of FEDS (1988)

While watching FEDS, I realized I hadn’t seen the movie before. Had I assumed it was a silly comedy not worth my attention and dismissed it out of hand? If so, I was wrong.

I was surprised to discover FEDS is a movie with a message. One movie critic even wondered if the film’s director was “uncertain whether he was aiming for slapstick or an earnest docu-drama about sexism in the FBI.” 

Here’s the premise: As a former Marine, Ellie De Witt (Rebecca De Mornay) is used to pushing herself — but nothing has prepared her for the challenges of becoming an FBI agent. As she trains at the academy, De Witt encounters rampant sexism among her smarmy, mostly male, classmates. And, while she’s a consummate athlete, De Witt’s study skills are abysmal. But, with the help of book-smart trainee Janis Zuckerman (Mary Gross), as roommates and teammates during the tough 16-week FBI training course, Ellie and Janis might just show their macho cohorts the error of their ways. 

Several of the movie’s scenes triggered flashbacks to when I attended the FBI Academy.

FEDS takes place six years after I joined the FBI in 1982. The dismissive attitudes of a handful of male classmates and instructors were vividly familiar.

During the opening scene, Ellie is told, “Under present guidelines, we are required to admit a certain number of women in our training academy. Quite frankly, I don’t think you have a prayer.” 

Later, one trainee remarked, “This whole equal rights business is lowering the caliber of new FBI agents coming in.” During my early days in the Bureau, similar statements were said to me.

Was the movie perfect? Of course not. It was definitely a comedy and not a documentary. It depicted training as a hiring process designed to weed out unqualified candidates, where 31 of 40 students were expected to fail. In reality, on average, a new agent class loses only one or two trainees, usually because they failed the academics or firearms sessions.

The movie is correct about dating among classmates. It is allowed, but discretion is advised. Two of my classmates got married a few months after graduation.

There were a few cringeworthy moments when the women trainees were depicted unflatteringly, but FEDS is mostly an uplifting portrayal of two women recruits determined to control their careers and lives despite obstacles placed in the path. Who knew?

At the graduation ceremony at the end of the film, Ellie spoke one of the best lines in the movie.

“I hope the people of the United States of America will be able to sleep better knowing that women like us have guns.”

As a listener of FBI Retired Case File Review, you know she’s absolutely correct. Women are the case agents for many of the exciting and complex investigations reviewed on the podcast.

FEDS is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube. Click here to watch the official trailer.

Reading this review of FEDS and watching the movie is a fun way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of women agents. You can also celebrate by listening to the special FBI Retired Case File Review series commemorating the FBI milestone.



Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, jokes that she writes about the FBI to relive her glory days. After 26 years with the Bureau specializing in major economic fraud and corruption investigations, she calls on her professional encounters with scams and schemers to write police procedurals inspired by true crime FBI cases in her Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad crime fiction series featuring flawed female FBI agent Kari Wheeler. Jerri’s FBI for Armchair Detectives nonfiction series enables readers to discover who the FBI is and what the FBI does by debunking misconceptions about the FBI in books, TV, and movies. Her books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks wherever books are sold. She’s also the host of FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast with more than 300 episodes available on all popular podcast apps and YouTube.

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