Oscar Nominee ‘The Gatekeepers’ is Truth to Power

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CHICAGO – Normal job justification makes most people defensive. Imagine justifying an anti-terrorist organization. What weapons – besides the physical variety – would be available to you? Fear, jingoism and marginalizing of the “other” are a few of the defensives used by “The Gatekeepers.”

Nominated for a Oscar on Sunday, “The Gatekeepers” is a soul project by director Dror Moreh. He goes inside the “Shin Bet,” the Israeli anti-terrorist organization famous for its power and secrecy. In tracing their history and methodologies, he interviews six of its high level ex-directors. Their fearless insight into “justifying their jobs” within the organization becomes a lesson in the immorality of punishment without law. Organizations like Shin Bet, or Homeland Security or even the CIA create their own rule of law, which begets questionable torture, shadow paranoia and a loss of any innocence in achieving the peace.

Shin Bet was formed after the formation of the State of Israel in 1948. First used as a counter-intelligence agency, its power increased after the Six-Day War in 1967. It evolved into a anti-terrorist organization, monitoring the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Focusing the attention on getting information, Shin Bet has been on the hot seat regarding methods of prisoner interrogation and use of information.

The Gatekeepers
The Ex-Leaders of Shin Bet in ‘The Gatekeepers’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

“The Gatekeepers” was inspired by the Errol Morris documentary, “The Fog of War.” In that famous film, Robert McNamara – the U.S. Secretary of Defense during the VietNam war – admitted his sins in justifying his job. Dror Moreh takes the same approach in interviewing the ex-directors of Shin Bet. How did they justify their jobs? What mistakes in strategy were made? How does the anti-terrorist operation in Israel step over the line of morality?

Moreh divides the film into seven segments, chronicling Shin Bet from the Six-Day War onward. The theme of all the segments is “no strategy, but tactics,” meaning that the organization has no far-reaching goal, except to continue throwing gasoline on an ever blazing fire. Given that conservative politics have ruled Israel in the last generation (defined by hawkish prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu), the Shin Bet has continued to define itself through tactics.

The amazing candor of the ex-directors of the organization – Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gilon, Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin – is what makes this overview fascinating. Like Dwight D. Eisenhower of the United States, because they have participated in the “war,” they have a better perspective of the moral backlash for civilization. Their overall concern defines the bureaucracy that strips away rational co-existence, creating enemies out of thin air and fomenting distrust in a society where trust is desperately necessary.

The State of Israel’s evolution is called upon the carpet as well. The territory was instituted as a partial payback for the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust in the mid twentieth century. As conservative orthodox factions claimed their rights to new territories – with armies, government administrations, allies and insurgencies backing them up – the fog that settles into the definition of “homeland” and “state,” becomes a chess game of strong arm tactics.

Ami Ayalon
Ami Ayalon is Interviewed in ‘The Gatekeepers’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

This is a talking head film, but stylish use of archival footage and computer enhancement provides a depth and clarity for those highlighted events. Director Moreh’s dogged pursuit of the most rational ex-directors, combined with his fearlessness in confronting the issues of Shin Bet, Israel and their relation to the territories and the world, provides a truth that is unique and not often expressed. As a civilization, we justify our “jobs” with complexities, ideologies and religious rationalizations, but rarely do we focus on the morality of those actions. Moreh had the courage to do so.

Often some of the most provocative filmmaking highlighted by the Oscars are brushed aside in the hyped races for “Best Picture.” The movies that can really move us, like “The Gatekeepers,” are ultimately better, and more reflective of our existence, than the so-called “Best.”

“The Gatekeepers” continues its limited release in Chicago on February 22th. See local listings for theaters and showtimes. Written and directed by Dror Moreh. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2013 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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