Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: The Gatekeepers

An eye-opening documentary about the hollow victories of Israel’s top anti-terror fighters, The Gatekeepers is a tart, complicated cocktail of a film sure to send audience members out of the theatre with heads abuzz and arguments a-popping.

Jan 14, 2013

-By Chris Barsanti


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1370208-Gatekeepers_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

For his documentary The Gatekeepers, director Dror Moreh’s first coup lies obviously in the get: convincing the six men who led Shin Bet—Israel’s secret service which deals with cases of domestic terrorism—from 1980 to 2011 to come on-camera and talk with seemingly complete frankness about what they did. Moreh’s second coup is so thoroughly defying expectations.

The unapologetic presentation of supremely dirty tactics, topical subject matter, and highly glossed technical specs (Moreh started out as a cinematographer) and you-are-there archival footage all combine to give the film a techno-thriller gleam that could lead some to expect a straightforward celebration of jobs well done. As the film ably shows, these men’s records, specifically the radically increased ability to thwart successful terrorist attacks on Israeli targets, speak for themselves. But just like how Eugene Jarecki’s The House I Live In turned a gimlet eye on the blowback of the war on drugs, Moreh’s film steers far away from triumphalism to embrace a grimmer reality.

By focusing primarily on the period beginning in 1980, Moreh sidesteps repeating much history about Israel’s two stunning victories against larger Arab armies in 1967 and 1973. Afterwards, none of Israel’s neighbors had much stomach for open conflict. Dangers would thereafter come mostly from inside, frequently from Palestinians living in territories captured in 1967, though right-wing Jewish terrorists opposed to any peace process or relinquishing land also became a greater threat in the early 1990s. The day-to-day work of thwarting assassins or keeping suicide bombers off city buses would fall to Shin Bet.

As the agency’s former heads describe with bullet-point concision, the job is a mixture of spying and decisive action that reads like a more intimate version of the Central Intelligence Agency’s drone campaign. After gathering intelligence on a target via informants and surveillance, the agency strikes. In many cases, like in 2006 when Shin Bet targeted Palestinian terrorist Yahya Ayyash—a legendary figure known as “The Engineer” who was behind several devastating attacks on Israel—the strike meant assassination.

There’s a nonchalant air to Moreh’s interviewees that is initially disconcerting. They come on one after the other, to talk in remarkably dispassionate ways, about the frequently brutal methods they utilized. Given the litany of torture and baroque assassination plots detailed here, their forthrightness is jarring but also refreshing. The morality of these men’s actions will of course be judged differently by each viewer, but at the very least they are allowing their dirty hands to be shown, without crafting elaborate scrims to hide behind.

This directness could stem in part from the disillusionment each man appears to feel. Although happy to catalogue Shin Bet’s successes, they take pains to address its failures, like the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin by a Jewish terrorist. They also make the case that all of their work might well have been for naught, with Israel possibly less safe than ever before. Yaakov Peri (1988–1995) even notes sardonically that Shin Bet retirees tend to become “a bit of a leftist.” As Moreh builds his film towards its intellectually harrowing conclusion, he raises the dark possibility that after all this time, Shin Bet could have won almost every battle that it fought, but lost the war.


Film Review: The Gatekeepers

An eye-opening documentary about the hollow victories of Israel’s top anti-terror fighters, The Gatekeepers is a tart, complicated cocktail of a film sure to send audience members out of the theatre with heads abuzz and arguments a-popping.

Jan 14, 2013

-By Chris Barsanti


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1370208-Gatekeepers_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

For his documentary The Gatekeepers, director Dror Moreh’s first coup lies obviously in the get: convincing the six men who led Shin Bet—Israel’s secret service which deals with cases of domestic terrorism—from 1980 to 2011 to come on-camera and talk with seemingly complete frankness about what they did. Moreh’s second coup is so thoroughly defying expectations.

The unapologetic presentation of supremely dirty tactics, topical subject matter, and highly glossed technical specs (Moreh started out as a cinematographer) and you-are-there archival footage all combine to give the film a techno-thriller gleam that could lead some to expect a straightforward celebration of jobs well done. As the film ably shows, these men’s records, specifically the radically increased ability to thwart successful terrorist attacks on Israeli targets, speak for themselves. But just like how Eugene Jarecki’s The House I Live In turned a gimlet eye on the blowback of the war on drugs, Moreh’s film steers far away from triumphalism to embrace a grimmer reality.

By focusing primarily on the period beginning in 1980, Moreh sidesteps repeating much history about Israel’s two stunning victories against larger Arab armies in 1967 and 1973. Afterwards, none of Israel’s neighbors had much stomach for open conflict. Dangers would thereafter come mostly from inside, frequently from Palestinians living in territories captured in 1967, though right-wing Jewish terrorists opposed to any peace process or relinquishing land also became a greater threat in the early 1990s. The day-to-day work of thwarting assassins or keeping suicide bombers off city buses would fall to Shin Bet.

As the agency’s former heads describe with bullet-point concision, the job is a mixture of spying and decisive action that reads like a more intimate version of the Central Intelligence Agency’s drone campaign. After gathering intelligence on a target via informants and surveillance, the agency strikes. In many cases, like in 2006 when Shin Bet targeted Palestinian terrorist Yahya Ayyash—a legendary figure known as “The Engineer” who was behind several devastating attacks on Israel—the strike meant assassination.

There’s a nonchalant air to Moreh’s interviewees that is initially disconcerting. They come on one after the other, to talk in remarkably dispassionate ways, about the frequently brutal methods they utilized. Given the litany of torture and baroque assassination plots detailed here, their forthrightness is jarring but also refreshing. The morality of these men’s actions will of course be judged differently by each viewer, but at the very least they are allowing their dirty hands to be shown, without crafting elaborate scrims to hide behind.

This directness could stem in part from the disillusionment each man appears to feel. Although happy to catalogue Shin Bet’s successes, they take pains to address its failures, like the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin by a Jewish terrorist. They also make the case that all of their work might well have been for naught, with Israel possibly less safe than ever before. Yaakov Peri (1988–1995) even notes sardonically that Shin Bet retirees tend to become “a bit of a leftist.” As Moreh builds his film towards its intellectually harrowing conclusion, he raises the dark possibility that after all this time, Shin Bet could have won almost every battle that it fought, but lost the war.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Fanny
Film Review: Fanny

"Classic" is a word all too casually bandied about, but for Daniel Auteuil's screen adaptation of this beloved French trilogy it is completely apropos. More »

Alive Inside
Film Review: Alive Inside

Incredibly moving and powerful documentary about combatting Alzheimer's with music. Without the use of a single CGI effect, you see literal miracles happening here. More »

A Five Star Life
Film Review: A Five Star Life

With a lot of travelogue-type footage and some introspection, director Maria Sole Tognazzi’s A Five Star Life finds a new angle to the women’s issues we thought we already settled, or at least had enough of for now. More »

Aftermath
Film Review: Aftermath

Imagine Night of the Living Dead, then take away the zombies and add radiation sickness: The result would be something like this claustrophobic post-nuclear apocalypse tale about how quickly civilized people revert once civilization is gone. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Sex Tape review
Film Review: Sex Tape

Couple's homemade porn circulates on the web in an R-rated comedy that wastes the talents of its stars. More »

The Purge: Anarchy
Film Review: The Purge: Anarchy

A modest but noticeable improvement on its predecessor, The Purge: Anarchy offers a more effective—if still far from ideal—realization of the series' killer premise. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here