It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
As heads of the Shin Bet (the Israeli Security Agency), the six interviewees who narrate this movie stayed behind the scenes, providing their country with an unseen shield. One of them looks like a jolly grandfather in suspenders. Another has a youthful presence, but shares the reflections of a man much older. Another, with scratchy voice and chiseled face quotes intellectuals like Hannah Arendt and Carl von Clausewitz. Now, for the first time, they make themselves visible, speaking out with surprising frankness in the most dramatic political documentary in years, especially for anyone with a stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The viewer need not have familiarity with the modern history of the Middle East to understand the film. Its first lesson is that in tracking and targeting terrorists, politicians want black-and-white answers, while these intelligence officers usually inhabit in the grey of doubt. If they strike, they might kill civilians. If they do not strike, they might leave Israel vulnerable to an assault. But, if they give their heads of state the "wrong" answers, they risk widespread humiliation. Thus, public perception might be valued more than Palestinian lives. And the film offers a second lesson, which is that this godlike power to kill is unnatural.
"The Gatekeepers" has a cold air to it: washed-out colors, tan ominous soundtrack, eerily floating satellite footage… The most chilling aspect, however, is the blunt commentary about the work itself. These men accept that national security has no morality Their expeditions into Palestinian neighborhoods are exercises in hunting rabbits. One officer comments, with a slight grin, that in Nablus, "wherever you threw a rock, there was either a cat or a terrorist. Some nights we arrested hundreds of people."
The film's atmosphere is compelling, and another strength is that it is self-critical. These officers offer candid observations, not only assessing the politicians they served, but also their own predecessors' mishandling of famous events. More than that, they acknowledge that the Palestinians have a opposing narrative. One official expresses his difficulty in sitting with terrorists for peace talks, but recalls that the Palestinian at that table called him a terrorist. Thus, he states, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.