Ashvegas movie review: The Gatekeepers


Are you the gatekeeper?
(Sony Pictures Classics)

Dror Moreh’s The Gatekeepers is a solid documentary that occasionally lives up to its potential.  Featuring the first ever interviews with the former leaders of Israel’s anti-terrorism agency Shin Bet, the film examines the nation’s turning points over the past half decade with unprecedented insight.  While much knowledge is gleaned in the process, the film is hampered by a plodding pace and a subdued tone that feels out of step with the subject at hand.  Not nearly as revelatory as it portends, there’s still plenty of value within, yet its tame nature is a bit of a letdown.

In his follow-up to Sharon, the director’s bio-doc on the eponymous Israeli Prime Minister, Moreh hypes The Gatekeepers’ exclusivity from the start.  The prospect of gaining novel access is tantalizing, especially with a situation as volatile as that of Israel’s in the Middle East, but also establishes fairly great expectations.  To his credit, Moreh generally assumes minimal foreknowledge of Israeli history and manages to avoid too much esotericism.  Opening with 1967’s Six-Day War as the catalyst for Shin Bet’s creation, his film begins its weaving through landmark political events and, with the aid of a few documentary tricks, allows its honored guests to fill in the blanks.

Re-imagining the 300 Bus incident.
(Sony Pictures Classics)

The information divulged by the Shin Bet leaders ranges from thoughtful (the presentation of Rabin as the nation’s last real chance for peace with Palestine) to haunting (the agency thwarting a bombing of the Dome of the Rock, whose destruction would assuredly incite war from Muslim nations around the world).  Successfully melding a wealth of archival footage to better illustrate the happenings under scrutiny, the film occasionally goes deeper still with the aid of deceptively real animation.  The most notable of these instances imagines a photographer encroaching upon the crime scene of 1987‘s 300 Bus incident, in which a pair of hijackers were beaten to death.  Tracing the likely path through which the evidence was obtained, the sequence breathlessly mimics the camera with a flash of light and overlays the actual pictures on the recreated scene as they were taken.

Even with such transcendent moments, however, The Gatekeepers feels sadly incomplete.  Whereas Errol Morris regularly persuades his interviewees to open up in unexpected ways, the Shin Bet alums barely express signs of vulnerability and the film suffers as a result.  As the interviews wear on, plenty of details are shared, yet there remains a sense that the subjects are merely humoring Moreh and not actually contributing all that much.  There’s also the matter of why the subjects have suddenly all agreed to talk, an issue never breached by the director nor his stars.  Minus this basis and the consistent “aha” moments that such a meeting of minds suggest, the film struggles as a true exposé and, though succeeding on multiple levels, is little more than a good start.

Grade: B

Rated PG-13 for violent content including disturbing images.

is currently playing at the Fine Arts Theatre on Biltmore Ave.