Films on FBI

FBI  =  Federal Bureau of Investigation

The FBI is a domestic law enforcement agency. The FBI also gathers domestic intelligence, and works to put a stop to threats from within the United States. As the premier law enforcement agency in the United States, the FBI assists local police in handling major cases, and also has a sophisticated evidence lab. Law enforcement agencies can send material for analysis to the FBI if their local labs are not equipped to handle it. Major murder cases, crimes which cross state boundaries, and kidnappings are all under the jurisdiction of the FBI. If someone within the United States was planning to do something that threatened American security, it would be under the jurisdiction of the FBI.

The FBI also handles domestic surveillance. If the CIA wants information on individuals within the United States, they must go through the FBI to obtain it. The FBI maintains federal watchlists, most wanted documentation, and surveillance services on suspicious individuals inside the United States. FBI agents are distributed around the country in local bureaus to assist local law enforcement in enforcing the laws of the United States and to neutralize threats to American security.

While the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is concerned with law enforcement, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is concerned with gathering intelligence information, and the National Security Agency (NSA) is concerned with US security. All three are agencies of the American government. Each agency has a specific area of focus, although they do occasionally cooperate on cases to share information which could lead to a breakthrough.

J. Edgar Hoover
and the Great American Inquisitions

Documentary 2005 NR 93 minutes. As director of the FBI for more than 40 years, J. Edgar Hoover served under a record eight presidents and oversaw thousands of investigations against individuals he deemed anti-American, including actors, politicians and members of protest groups. This fascinating documentary applies a critical eye to Hoover’s legacy with a special focus on his penchant for propaganda, preying on Americans’ fears of communism to achieve his personal aims.

J. Edgar

Docudrama 2011 R 137 minutes. Leonardo DiCaprio stars in this riveting biopic as J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime FBI director as notorious for his overzealous methods of law enforcement as for the rumors regarding his cross-dressing and close relationship with protégé Clyde Tolson.


Drama 2000 NR 93 minutes. Ernest Borgnine offers up a fascinating portrait of FBI Dir. J. Edgar Hoover in this riveting one-man drama, discussing Hoover’s controversial operational methods, his war on communists and other groups, and his sexual preference. Reminiscing about his former boss and friend is Cartha “Deke” Deloach, who was an FBI deputy director and member of Hoover’s inner circle. Rick Pamplin writes and directs.

American Hustle

Docudrama 2013 R. This fictionalization of the “Abscam” (Arab scam) scandal of the early 1980s follows con man Irving Rosenfeld and his lover, Sydney Prosser, as they help an eccentric FBI agent expose corruption among several members of Congress in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The opening screen states:  “Some of this actually happened.” Christian Bale is hilarious and occasionally heart-wrenching as a con-man trying to make it big; Amy Adams is alluring as his mistress and partner; Bradley Cooper plays an FBI agent who exudes ambition and greed; and Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as an unbalanced wife.  And then you throw in a likeable mayor (Jeremy Renner) who believes he’s helping his city, corrupt politicians, and the mob. It deftly balances humor and serious drama. This is a silly, fun, and funny film with great acting and good dialogue.

Home of the Brave

Documentary 2004 NR 1hr 14m. This documentary chronicles the murder of civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo, who was killed for participating in a march for black voting rights.  Viola’s death helped pass the Voting Rights act of 1965. This is fascinating documentary about a forgotten woman in the civil rights movement, an amazing story that somehow got lost in time. Among the stories of Dr. King, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks, this story should be told. It reveals how intimately the FBI was involved in her murder, the coverup which followed it, and what happened to Ms. Liuzzo’s reputation at the hands of the FBI in the aftermath of her killing. Moving, inspiring, distressing, this movie unseats any vestige of trust in our government’s respect for human life and rights. Well-done documentary about people who were at ground zero of the civil rights movement. Bravo to all concerned that her heroism has seen the light of day! I believe this is something that can and should be shown to schoolchildren, a memorial to a woman who gave her life for what she believed in, and who should not be forgotten.

The Rules of Engagement

Documentary 1997 UR 136 minutes. In one of the most tragic face-offs in the history of law enforcement, the deadly debacle at Waco pitted the Branch Davidian sect against the FBI in an all-out war. This Academy Award-nominated documentary directed by William Gazecki makes the most of footage and recordings to examine how the events that led to the tragedy of April 19, 1993, unfolded, and how the FBI’s unrelenting approach made what was already a bad situation much worse.

Incident at Oglala
The Leonard Peltier Story

Documentary 1992 PG 1hr 31m.  Narrated by Robert Redford, this provocative documentary chronicles the controversial events surrounding the shooting of two FBI agents on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975, resulting in the conviction of Sioux activist Leonard Peltier. Featuring reenactments and interviews with key players in the incident, the film offers evidence that the government’s prosecution of Peltier was unjust and politically motivated.

The Camden 28

Documentary 2007 NR 1hr 22m. This stirring documentary recounts the trial of 28 Vietnam War opponents who broke into a New Jersey draft board office in 1971. The goal of the group was to make a bold statement in opposition to the war in Vietnam by way of sabotaging the portion of the draft process that was administered through the local draft board in Camden. Their plan was to break into the draft board offices at night and search for, collect, and either destroy or remove the records of all Class 1-A status draft registrants. It was to be both a symbolic and real blow to the process through which tens of thousands of young American men were being drafted and sent to fight in Vietnam. The Vietnam participants seemingly had no choice and were “selected” by their neighbors who sat on the local draft board. They wrote in a statement before trial:  “We are twenty-eight men and women who, together with other resisters across the country, are trying with our lives to say NO to the madness we see perpetrated by our government in the name of the American people – the madness of our Vietnam policy, of the arms race, of our neglected cities and inhuman prisons. We do not believe that it is criminal to destroy pieces of paper which are used to bind men to involuntary servitude, which train these men to kill, and which send them to possibly die in an unjust, immoral, and illegal war. We will continue to speak out and act for peace and justice, knowing that our spirit of resistance cannot be jailed or broken.” The group’s members weren’t stereotypical anti-Vietnam War activists. While the group did include young students and “hippies,” there were also blue-collar workers, devout Catholics and even four Catholic priests and a Protestant minister. The raid resulted in a high-profile trial against the activists that was seen by many as a referendum on the Vietnam War. The FBI encouraged and enabled the raid on the draft board to take place, so the raid came across as being funded and driven by the FBI, and the defense was able to argue effectively that through the FBI, the government “over-reached” in its zeal to arrest and prosecute this particular set of anti-war activists. The jury returned “not guilty” verdicts for all counts against all 28 defendants, acquitting them. These were the first Not Guilty verdicts for antiwar protestors, and were really a turning point against the war in Vietnam. Howard Zinn had testified at the trial and recommended civil disobedience. I would recommend the film to activists, those interested in the religious left, and those interested in the subjects of civil disobedience and justice.

Catch Me If You Can

Docudrama 2002 PG-13 141 minutes. Frank W. Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a cunning con man — posing as a doctor, lawyer and pilot all before turning 21. He’s also a deft forger, and his work attracts the attention of FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), who makes it his mission to put Frank behind bars. But Frank not only eludes capture, he revels in the pursuit, even taking time to taunt Carl by phone. Steven Spielberg directs this comic caper based on a true story.See Full Review

Link to see photos of the real people this story is based on.

Who is Clark Rockefeller?

Docudrama 2010 NR 88 minutes. Eric McCormack (“Will & Grace”) stars in this Lifetime original movie as skilled con artist Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a man who kept the FBI on its toes with a string of scams and a sham marriage to an unsuspecting millionaire (Sherry Stringfield). Claiming to be an heir to the Rockefeller fortune, he romanced a Harvard-educated woman and eventually fathered a daughter (Emily Alyn Lind) he would try to kidnap.

Children of Internment

Documentary 2014 86 min. Thousands of German families were interned by the United States during World War 2. (It is a common misperception that only Japanese-Americans were interned during WW2.) This wartime internment of German-Americans remains generally unknown to most Americans — and largely overlooked by historians. Nearly 11,000 German “aliens” were interned and tens of thousands more suffered illegal searches and seizures by the FBI, relocation, harassment, interrogation, family separation, deportation and repatriation to Germany. All immigrants to the USA are labelled “aliens” until they learn English and pass tests to become US “citizens”. Many immigrants after the end of World War One took the steps to become US “citizens”, but many others remained technically classified as “aliens”, perhaps too busy trying to earn a living to learn English and pass the citizenship tests. So this group of new Americans were technically still citizens of Germany, and these “aliens” unprotected by the US Constitution could be interned for no good reason.  See Full Review

The FBI Story:
A report to the People

Docudrama 1959. This film tells of the partly-true history of an FBI agent combating various crimes and criminals and spies. John (‘Chip’) Hardesty (James Stewart) quickly recounts his (fictional) involvement in the capture and/or deaths of numerous infamous mobsters of the day including “Pretty Boy” Floyd, “Baby Face” Nelson, and “Machine Gun” Kelly (who coined the popular term “G-Men” during his arrest, shouting “Don’t Shoot G-Men, Don’t Shoot”.) Then Hardesty is sent to Oklahoma to investigate a series of murders of Native Americans who had oil rich mineral rights and land (The real case was the Osage Indian murders, between 1921 and 1923). The FBI lab ties the doctored wills and life insurance policies of the murder victims to a local banker with the typewriter that he used (in real life a rancher, William “King of Osage” Hale). Hardesty is considering resigning from the FBI, but then listening to the new director, J. Edgar Hoover, he becomes inspired to stay. The Kansas City Massacre in 1933 of three agents changed the FBI — prior to this event the agency did not have authority to carry firearms (although many agents did) and make arrests (they could make a “citizen’s arrest”, then call a U.S. Marshall or local law officer), but a year later Congress gave the FBI statutory authority to carry guns and make arrests. After Pearl Harbor, enemy aliens (Americans of Japanese, German and Italian descent) are quickly rounded up by the FBI and sent to concentration camp, though the film argues that it was a necessary act to prevent possible espionage and collaboration with the Axis Powers. In order to shoulder the new burden, the ranks of the “bureau” are quickly doubled from about 2500 to more than 5000 agents. Hardesty is sent by the FBI to relieve the duties of three agents in an unspecified South American country after their identities had been compromised (the CIA did not yet exist at the time, and U.S. wartime covert activities in Latin America were directed by the FBI’s Special Intelligence Service). The Federal Bureau of Investigation had great influence over the film’s production, with J. Edgar Hoover acting as a co-producer of sorts. Hoover even forced LeRoy to re-shoot several scenes he didn’t think portrayed the FBI in an appropriate light, and played a pivotal role in the casting for the film. Hoover and director LeRoy were personal friends, but Hoover only approved the film after he had a file of “dirt” created on LeRoy. Hoover had to approve every frame of the film and also had two special agents with LeRoy for the duration of filming. Hoover himself appears briefly in the film. Based on a book by Don Whitehead with Foreword by J. Edgar Hoover, imprimatur F.B.I. Does it contain the inside story? Not very likely. For telling us what J. Edgar wanted us to hear according to his own values, the book has no peer. It probably does present many of the bare facts of the formation of a government agency.


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