Review of The Heat (2013)

The Heat (2013) stars Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.

Here’s the premise: An uptight FBI Special Agent is paired with a foul-mouthed Boston cop to take down a ruthless drug lord.

The tagline for The Heat is “Good Cop, Mad Cop.” The clever catchphrase sums up the fundamental conflict between straight-laced Special Agent Sarah Ashburn and “old school” Boston detective Shannon Mullins. Agent Ashburn prefers to use interview techniques and behavioral assessment when engaging with witnesses and subjects, while Detective Mullins wants to bring in the heat by using more aggressive methods to persuade detainees to cooperate, such as cursing and insulting them, beating them with a phone book (remember those) and playing Russian roulette with a loaded revolver aimed at their private parts.


Since my movie reviews focus on how FBI policies and procedures are portrayed, let’s look at how agents are actually trained to conduct interviews.

Throughout the film, Agent Ashburn admonishes Detective Mullins that they’ll catch more bad guys with sugar than with a stick. The FBI character is correct. Agents prefer to rely on their charm and skills of persuasions—definitely not force—to convince subjects and witnesses to cooperate. Agent Ashburn also objects to Detective Mullins’ use of the term interrogation. For most communications between agents, witnesses, and subjects, the appropriate FBI term is interview.

“Bad guys” have seen it all and don’t scare easily.

Instead of threatening something the suspect doesn’t want, say more time in prison, a skilled interviewer turns the narrative around and presents an offer of less time (or no time) in prison—something the suspect does want.

It’s all in the presentation. It’s that old-honey-versus-vinegar-thing or, as stated in The Heat, sugar versus stick.

Plus, information obtained through intimidation and coercion is subject to being thrown out by a judge during a suppression hearing, where evidence is deemed inadmissible and excluded from being used during a trial.

The Heat is currently streaming on HBO Max and available to rent on Prime Video and YouTube. Watch the official trailer here.

To learn more about successful interview techniques, listen to these FBI Retired Case File Review episodes:

245: Charlie Price – Artful Interviews, Confessions and Signed Statements

215: James Kyle – Interviewing Pedophiles, Conversation with Purpose

095: Eugene Casey – Terrorist Carlos The Jackal, Interview Strategies

The movie also presents the common cliché “The FBI Doesn’t Play Well With Others” covered in my book, FBI Myths and Misconceptions.

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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