Oscars 2013: ‘The Gatekeepers’ Review


Film Pulse Score

Release Date: February 1, 2013
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Film Pulse Score: 8/10

The most intriguing political films are usually the ones based on fact or are very much grounded in reality.     All the President’s Men is one that comes to mind.  It’s a classic film that builds suspense from the drama and not through chases and gunfire.   It’s a thinking man’s thriller where there’s plenty of talk and not much action.   There’s a lot to process and if you don’t pay attention you could easily miss something.  The Gatekeepers is a very engaging and fascinating political documentary that features plenty of talking heads and subtitles.   The danger is your mind or eyes may wander and if you miss a translation you may have easily missed something important.

Director Dror Moreh sits down with the surviving former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence agency.    Each head discusses the events that transpired while they were in charge.  There are some seriously interesting stories, that include some bomb strike footage and graphic photos, being told here and I’m rather surprised they weren’t subjected to censorship.   Failures are dwelled upon just as much as the successes.  However the failures are what carry the most weight.   One head recounts when he learned that the Prime Minister was assassinated on his watch.   Another described how political second guessing contribute to the failed attempt to take out an entire terrorist network in one blow.   On the flip side, another recounts how intelligence work helped prevent an attack that they believe would have started a global Jihad.  It really gives you an idea of what it’s like to be the head of an intelligence agency.

Being the head of an agency obviously carries great responsibility.  Moreh also examines the decision process and moral ambiguity of the actions the heads are called upon to order.   What’s the morality of collateral damage?  What’s the morality of torture?  What some of them will say may surprise you and often times shows that you don’t want to cross these people.   One of the heads actually started getting upset when he felt his morals were being brought into question.

The documentary provides a history of Shin Bet and how the leadership has changed with the times they are in.    It was quite surprising how events ultimately affected their decision making especially when it came to “an eye for an eye.”   It’s a very intriguing and eye-opening look at how another country handles situations and surprisingly they aren’t that far removed from our CIA.   I think one of my favorite moments was one former head said an American diplomat was criticizing the actions of Shin Bet in regards to dropping a bomb on a civilian location.  He retorted by saying he knows what you, the Americans, do in Afghanistan.   You fire a missile, kill 40 innocent people and don’t even if know if you got the target.  Ouch.

As I mentioned this is very much a talking head documentary.   There is a lot of information to process but in the end it’s educational, intriguing and fascinating.  After watching it I felt I may have a slightly better understanding of what’s going on in Israel but as dictated by these former heads I feel like there simply won’t be any peace.  Hopefully I’m wrong.

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