The five former heads of Israel's Secret Service exclusively reflect on their successes and failures to maintain security, even while violence flares up again, this ...
Rating: PG-13 for violent content including disturbing images
Length: 95 minutes
Released: February 1, 2013 Limited
Director: Dror Moreh
Rated PG-13 for some violent content and disturbing images.
Nominated this year for the Academy Award for Documentary Feature, “The Gatekeepers” is both journalistic coup and unsettling confirmation of the idea that “you can’t make peace using military means,” in the words of one of the movie’s subjects.
The film is essentially an oral history of the Shin Bet, the intelligence agency which — even more than the famous Mossad — is “charged with defending Israel against terrorism, espionage and the release of state secrets.”
Director Dror Moreh’s coup was to persuade six surviving directors of the Shin Bet to break their tradition of silence and grant on-camera, on-the-record interviews about the agency and its work. Their testimony covers much of the past half-century, from the Six-Day War of 1967 to today.
The men speak frankly about their successes and failures and the apparent futility of the agency’s mission. They also discuss the godlike life-or-death power they possessed — the authority to drop a bomb on a car or home to kill a terror suspect, along with, perhaps, a few unlucky bystanders.
“There’s something unnatural about it,” says Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet from 2005 to 2011.
The model here is Errol Morris’ Oscar-winning “The Fog of War,” a 2003 portrait of former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara. That movie gave McNamara a platform to discuss and even justify his controversial decisions during the Vietnam War. “The Gatekeepers” also allows its subjects to tell their own stories. Most are proud of their service but uncertain of its impact. As one threat recedes, another emerges.
The oldest of these “gatekeepers,” Avraham Shalom, is alternately avuncular and sinister. Shalom was forced to resign after ordering the executions of two captured terrorists responsible for the 1984 hijacking of a Tel Aviv bus. Says Shalom: “In the war against terror, forget morality.”
An unsettling electronic music score accompanies much of the film, and, occasionally, Moreh employs digital effects to transform vintage photographs into quasi-animated dramatic tableaux. The movie is at its best when the director eschews even these modest enhancements. The words are disquieting enough. The men know Israel must be protected, but they’ve also learned that violence, however justified, begets violence. As one Shin Bet veteran says: “We wanted security and got more terrorism.”