Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Gatekeepers

"The Gatekeepers" director Dror Moreh - the so-called "Michael Moore of Israel" - has been accused by some of Anti-Semitism, and there is something unseemly about the way he scolds Israelis while never commenting on the atrocities committed by their Palestinian counterparts, but there's a more fundamental reason why his film is by far the weakest of the four documentary Oscar nominees I've seen (I'm hoping to catch "5 Broken Cameras" at DocuDay): it's so boring I dozed through wide swaths of it.

Moreh interviews the six living former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security agency spawned from Mossad, and the film consists of little more than their talking heads intercut with graphic photographs of the bloody and mangled bodies of men, women and children killed in Shin Bet bombings. The events rehashed in the interviews all begin to run together - most of the stories just aren't very interesting - and so too these lurid images. Moreh doesn't lay the foundation for them; rather, he relies on them to impart gravitas his film hasn't earned.

We learn absolutely nothing about these six potentially fascinating men as individuals; we come to differentiate them solely by their ages and physical appearance. Moreover, the film adverts to moral complexities without grappling with them in any meaningful way or yielding any memorable insight (except a distasteful comparison of Israelis' behavior along the Gaza Strip to Nazi Germany).

Admittedly, 100 minutes of gabbing in Hebrew is never going to be my idea of a good time. But in a category with such achievements as the excellent reportage in "How to Survive a Plague," the timely clarion call against sexual abuse in the military of "The Invisible War," and the artistry of the storytelling in "Searching for Sugar Man," "The Gatekeepers" is clearly the weakest link (and therefore, knowing the Academy, probably a shoo-in to win).

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