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Movie review: 'The Gatekeepers'

Posted 2:48pm on Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013

PG-13 (violent content, disturbing images); 97 min.

The Gatekeepers, an Oscar nominee for Best Documentary, focuses on a handful of very tough guys. Israelis, generally speaking, tend to be tough, but the men who've commanded Shin Bet, Israel's secret service, are in a whole other category.

Director Dror Moreh tells the story of Israeli's internal security, starting roughly with Israel's acquisition of the occupied territories in 1967 through today. Mainly he concentrates on the past 30 years and on the administrations of six Shin Bet leaders, who are very different in style and temperament, but who are all shrewd and pragmatic.

Most of us will never order a missile strike on a terrorist target, and so it's interesting to hear former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin explain what it's like having to decide whether to fire in a matter of seconds, while assessing intelligence to find out whether innocent people are in the area. Even to him, it doesn't feel right that this power of life and death should be in his hands.

The documentary presents the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was pursuing a lasting peace with the Palestinians, as a calamity for Israel; the Shin Bet leaders share that assessment. It comes as a surprise: However they might have started out, they're all liberals now. Their positions on the big questions facing Israel place them decidedly to the left of the Israeli political spectrum.

Until this film, these Shin Bet directors had never consented to an interview. Now that they've spoken -- and have said the unexpected -- we can only wonder if their words will have an influence.

Exclusive: Landmark Magnolia, Dallas; Angelika Plano; opens March 15 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

-- Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

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