Sony // 2012 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // July 9th, 2013
An unprecedented look inside the Israeli Secret Service.
No conflict arrives without context. No problem plaques a people without history and a whole lot of fact/fiction. Determining the divisions and settling on the truth helps put any crisis in perspective, but sometime, access is limited or wholly unavailable. So when documentary filmmaker Dror Moreh set out to expose the various crimes and contributions of the Israeli Intelligence Agency Shin Bet to the current truce/troubles between Arabs and Jews, he did so deceptively. He found a willing subject in ex-head (or "Gatekeeper") Ami Ayalon, who in turn, put him in touch with the other remaining members of this exclusive sect. Before he knew it, Moreh had a six-part overview of the role Shin Bet played in modern Israel, from the Six Day War to the current state of relations with the Palestinians. Dealing with more con than pro, Moreh makes a case for power uncontrolled and providence ill-prepared for.
Using the multi-part approach, The Gatekeepers offers up an intriguing combination of talking heads and archival/artistically recreated footage. Photos are enhanced with CG techniques to give them a dimensional appearance while our now aging administrators play a carefully constructed game of information retrieval and acquiring, and what we eventually learn is that no country is beyond cruelty and deadly dirty tricks to protect their sovereignty and derail the enemy. In this case, the cause is even more complicated because of religion, the origins of Israel itself, and the varying goals that Shin Bet had over time. The film's main focus quickly becomes the cover-up surrounding the infamous Bus 300 affair (where the agency beat two terrorists to death during a hostage crisis) and how cavalier the overseers are.
No, this is not a real mea culpa like Errol Morris' brilliant Fog of War, nor is it a telling indictment of everything Shin Bet stands for. Instead, it's a difficult and multi-faceted film that offers intriguing insights into the Middle East intelligent game sprinkled liberally with an "our might is right" mentality that often clouds any clarity. Let's face it-this is an organization which has its work cut out for it. The entire Arab world wants Israel destroyed, meaning that every piece of possible intel that comes Shin Bet's way has to be viewed as viable. There are no cooler heads waiting to prevail. This is the "best defense is a good offense" conceit that carries over into acts of horrific violence and death. Moreh may think he is unearthing a sensational smoking gun, but we Westerners are used to such sometimes laughable cloak and dagger. It's the missteps that are most memorable, as when Prime Minister and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin is assassinated by an extremist already under Shin Bet observation.
As with many discussions of the topic, the undeniable entrenchment on both sides indicates a clear lack of possible solutions, and The Gatekeepers doesn't propose to offer any. Instead, it's like any piece of happenstance investigation where information is accidentally dropped via a desire to seem cooperative. All of the interview subjects are carefully practiced and prepared, but even within their planned out professional responses a bit of truth sneaks out. This gives Moreh the material he needs to accentuate the confessional with his unique creative tweaks. The end result is not so much a revelation as a reality, the sad fact of watching faith and religious fundamentalism (on both sides) dictate logic and rational reproach. The Gatekeepers is often a masterful manipulation of history. It's also a solemn statement of the world we live in today...and perhaps, for the rest of our planet's existence.
Offered up by Sony in an excellent Blu-ray package, The Gatekeepers has some fine tech specs. The 1.78:1 widescreen image does a good job with both the contemporary footage and the archival material, rendering them both very polished and without major flaw. The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also very good, presenting the conversations clearly and crisply while accentuating the battle material with lots of multichannel choices. As for added content, we are treated to a mandatory commentary which sheds even more light on what we've seen. There is more historical context as well as the various tricks Moreh used to achieve his aims. There is also a Q&A which is more succinct and less oriented around specific moments in the movie. We are also treated to a trailer.
While it could have offered up more background, what we get with The Gatekeepers illustrates that age old cinematic adage. Truth is often stranger, and in this case, far more compelling, than any fiction could be. It's also a hard nut to crack, especially when national security is involved.
Not guilty. A terrific film about a complicated and contentious issue.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Hebrew)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R