The case can easily be made that Dror Moreh’s “The Gatekeepers” should’ve been the winner of the 2012 Best Documentary Feature Academy Award. Maybe so, but I’ll tell you this—I wouldn’t have wanted to be on that jury. It was such a fine field of non-fiction explorations nominated at last February’s ceremony, that I’m not sure that I could pick a real favorite. “How to Survive a Plague”, “5 Broken Cameras”, “The Invisible War” and winner “Searching for Sugar Man” were all outstanding films(and all reviewed here on the blog, fyi). If they didn’t individually attain greatness, they were all, at least, very, very good. “The Gatekeepers” is gripping, intelligent stuff. It’s powerful, visceral and unforgettable. If overall a bit stodgy—that’s okay. Because I couldn’t have taken much more of the horrifying archival footage incorporated. Just keep the focus on the talking heads, and I’ll be fine. Really, a good deal of this stuff is not for the faint of heart. But that doesn’t mean you should miss it. On the contrary—it should be required viewing. It’s a sobering expose.
This 100-minute documentary tells the story of the Israeli Shin Bet, a secret service agency that safeguards state security by seeking terrorists and providing counter-terrorism intelligence with operations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They also interrogate, torture and kill. And the story is told, in bracingly honest fashion, by six former heads of Shin Bet. Their tales are riveting. Broken down into seven “chapters”, “The Gatekeepers” goes into detail about the importance of Shin Bet’s role after the 1967 Six-Day War and the occupation of the Palestine territories. The men give scintillating accounts of the “Bus 300 affair” and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. There is also focus on the Oslo Accords and the role of the Jewish Underground. Capsulizing the intricate history of the tumultuous relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians in roughly an hour and a half must have proved daunting. But Moreh, and his editor Oron Adar, do a commendable job of keeping the work pointed and concise throughout, with a combination of interviews, archive video footage, and computer-generated imagery.
Apparently, there was a great reluctance initially for these men to appear and speak on camera. When you watch “The Gatekeepers”, there will be no doubt as to why that is. The morality and efficacy of torture, “collateral damage” and targeted assassinations is explored and debated to sobering effect. Obviously, this kind of information is highly sensitive and at least partially classified, so you’ll find yourself wondering what’s not being divulged. But make no mistake, what the sextet actually does share with us is astonishing. And the devastating images from the after-effects of bus bombings and tactical hits on buildings and neighborhoods is almost unwatchable. And it seems that just a bit of prodding was all it took to get these men to “spill their guts”. And some of their conclusions may surprise you, while almost all of it is likely to shock you. In Hebrew, with English subtitles, I viewed “The Gatekeepers” with a mix of fascination and trepidation. Its impact on me will linger on, and I urge the world politics curious to promptly visit this sharp and shattering work. Grade: A-