PLOT: A documentary about the decisions made by Israel's secretive security agency Shin Bet, as told by the group's former leaders.
WHO'S IT FOR? The Gatekeepers is a documentary that provides a compelling story, but it demands an attentive audience. As for its names, places, and events, well, this one might require some Wikipedia searching after a viewing.
Featuring six men with graying or balding hair wearing button-down shirts and telling work stories, The Gatekeepers is a political thriller of a rare feat. This is a movie in which the shadowy figures, previously hidden behind jurisdiction and mysterious control rooms, now come to light, and to life, while explaining why they ordered a button to be pressed, or why they didn't.
Outside of sequences which connect hundreds of pictures with lively dark animation, Moreh keeps the center interview aspects of the film very raw, with his subjects simply telling stories. While the film is organized into chapters (a tactic recently seen in the also current Zero Dark Thirty), this can be a difficult documentary to keep up with, especially for anyone who is unfamiliar with the events being discussed. On top of this, the names of the interview subjects are only presented once, breaking a rule that's in documentaries for a reason, and makes for a demand for very attentive viewing that certainly risks turning these distinct men into synonymous subjects. (In hopes of not revealing my ignorance, the studio thankfully provides production notes.)
Of the film's six subjects, its most captivating talking head is also the film's biggest example of the power of the Shin Bet — Avraham Shalom. As the film begins, Shalom is seen as a jolly, unimposing small man aiming to deflect any self-seriousness with his little smile and his meek voice. Especially in a moment in which he talks about a fox in a hole, Shalom becomes a commodity that you wish you could buy at the Grandpa Store, maybe dress up as as Hobbit, and place on on your windowsill.
However, even a seriously intimidating force like Shalom is no match for the prodding force that is Gatekeepers, with the documentary's driving mission to have its subjects open up their dossier files and then share them with the rest of the world. Eventually, Shalom does talk about his involvement with the Bus 300 affair, in which two bus hijackers were killed immediately after being captured. It is in this particularly potent moment in which Shalom's present day facade crumbles, and the power of Gatekeepers eerily brings a controversial decision from the past back to life.
Even for viewers who have no idea what the Bus 300 affair entails (certainly including myself) there is an encompassing catharsis to this movie. If it were not to be the members of Shin Bet, it would be Homeland Security, or George W. Bush, or anyone with explanations to be provided not in the realm of a sensationalized "60 Minutes" special. The revelation of these stories is as relieving to these men as it their audience, as this documentary allows these figures to vent their own frustrations about controversial events. Here is a rare moment in which people formerly of high power are allowed to defend their decisions. And yet despite this, the effectiveness for Gatekeepers comes with the dissatisfaction of their stories, meaning, there are not solid answers. Gatekeepers is a striking statement that while politics may function on "Yes" and "No" (or binary, as the film says), the life-and-death decisions of national security are most expressive with question marks.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10