The former head of Israel’s ultrasecret intelligence group Shin Bet pauses, hunting for the right word. “We’ve become…cruel,” he offers. Such admissions aren’t going to please the pro-Zionist viewers in the crowd, but as documentaries go, Dror Moreh’s concentrated blast of high-level doubt should grab everyone else with its stark sense of pragmatism. Built out of six candid interviews with former agency chiefs (a journalistic coup), The Gatekeepers occupies a prickly zone between tactical know-how—there’s weird elation here at successful assassinations—and lingering guilt. The latter wins out, controversially: None of these men have turned dovish, yet watching their honest moral grappling after years of orchestrating the alienation of millions in the West Bank and Gaza is gripping.
Moreh also includes some unnerving b&w re-creations of their covert operations: spooky aerial shots and car explosions worthy of a Bourne movie. These scenes exist in an abstract space, almost like a video game, suggesting a false theoretical remove when, in fact, the ramifications are real-world and deadly. Nothing about the film is easy. You’ll be arguing with your friends about the ethics of secrecy and defense for hours; that’s what makes these exit interviews so essential. They come late to the spy game, but are welcome regardless.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf