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The Gatekeepers (Shomerei Ha'saf)

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Critics' Reviews

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'The Gatekeepers': Frequently unsettling and provocative

One of five Academy Award nominees for Best Documentary Feature, Dror Moreh's enlightening and surprisingly accessible "The Gatekeepers," finally hits release this week, guaranteeing that fans of popcorn spy thrillers will never approach the genre in the same way ever again. Moreh's film centers on the operations and history of Israel's Shin Bet (essentially their version of our CIA, a secretive national security and intelligence service), as told through interviews with six former heads of the service, all of whom approach their life's work with enough eye-opening honesty to make a relatively dry topic crackle with intensity and interest.

Bing: More about Dror Moreh | More on Israel's Shin Bet

Made up of truly exclusive interviews with the former heads (none of the six had ever participated in such interviews), a healthy dose of archival footage spanning decades of the agency's history, and inventive computer-generated animation sequences that act in place of traditional re-enactments, "The Gatekeepers" is a well-crafted and highly informative documentary that should be able to hold the attention and interests of a varied audience.

Moreh divides his film up into seven different segments, all gathered around specific events involving Shin Bet and their work. "The Gatekeepers" is primarily concerned with issues involving the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, so it's not surprising that some of the most essential sections focus on landmark events in the conflict, particularly the Six-Day War and the hijacking of the 300 bus.

Weaved seamlessly into these storytelling bits are longer-form discussions on some of Shin Bet's (and, really, any national security and intelligence agency's) most prickly of problems, like torture, morality and personal accountability. While the six "gatekeepers" -- Ami Ayalon, Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin -- approach their interviews and memories with the maximum of collectedness, all of the men eventually reveal their true feelings on both method and history in different ways, and their honesty is striking. Most of the confessions in "The Gatekeepers" are not necessarily shocking, but the film is frequently unsettling and provocative, and it's nothing short of riveting to hear previously dedicated government men sigh and admit to finding their views going to the side of leftism in their waning days.

"The Gatekeepers" only suffers from being perhaps too swift and neatly packed together, as just as it gets to its emotional core, a new section must be queued up. Each piece of the film could easily make up its own documentary, just as each interviewee could lead his own film. If the only problem "The Gatekeepers" has is that it leaves its audience wanting more, it's no wonder the film could be picking up an Oscar this year.

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Kate Erbland is a contributing writer for MSN Movies and an associate editor for Film School Rejects. She has been writing about movies since 2008 but has been thinking about movies for far longer. She lives in Los Angeles.

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