Monthly Archives: April 2013

Review – The Gatekeepers (15) [2013]

The Gstekeepers - title banner2

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Dror Merah – Sharon

Cast:

  • Avraham Shalom Ben-Dor
  • Yaacov Peri
  • Carmi Gillon
  • Ami Ayalon
  • Avi Dichter
  • Yuval Diskin

Music Composer:

  • Regis Baillet
  • Jerome Chassagnard

There is great interest in the media regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Much of this interest focusses on the social and political aspect of the conflict. However, little regard is given to the security angle. Dror Merah’s Oscar-nominated The Gatekeepers explores this particular viewpoint superbly with openness and maturity.

Avraham Shalom, the most morally dubious of the six men, explaining his view on the 300 bus hijacking in 1984.

Avraham Shalom, the most morally dubious of the six men, explaining his view on the 300 bus hijacking in 1984.

The Gatekeepers is an Israeli documentary about the Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence-gathering security agency. Merah explains the role of the Shin Bet by interviewing six of the most recent heads of the organisation, including Avraham Shalom Ben-Dor (1981-86), Yaacov Peri (1988-94), Carmi Gillon (1994-96), Ami Ayalon (1996-2000), Avi Dichter (2000-05) and Yuval Diskin (2005-11). The documentary explores seven themes and analyses some contentious incidents and events between the 1980s and the 2000s, and how the Shin Bet dealt with them through a mixture of interviews and digital-reconstructions.

The Gatekeepers is an intellectually heavy film that deals with numerous controversial events. Merah does not shy away from asking his interviewees difficult questions, and the answers are unexpectedly candid on a range of incidents and events, such as what happened to the terrorists who hijacked the 300 bus in 1984; the mistakes the Shin Bet have made regarding targeted assassinations; the organisation’s lack of awareness vis-à-vis Jewish terrorism in the run-up to Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination in November 1995; and the lack of foresight regarding the Second Intifada between 2000-04, among many other issues.

Ami Ayalon, the most passionate of the six men, giving a political opinion on Israel's current security situation.

Ami Ayalon, the most passionate of the six men, giving a political opinion on Israel’s current security situation.

That the interviewees are who they are entails that one takes their opinions seriously. Much of what they say is deep, thought-provoking and utterly relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today. For them, invariably, moral and ethical conundrums were not merely academic debates, but life and death decisions that had to be made in minutes if they were lucky, but usually in seconds.

Having to make such decisions (of varying legality) on a regular basis, it would be easy to believe that these six men are so desensitised to taking life and abusing the law that they are now socio-psychopaths and virtually inhuman. But what is astonishing is that all six men have a burdening conscience. They are all extremely conscientious of the powers that they once held in the Shin Bet, and that their actions (or omissions) cost and saved lives.

However, while the former heads of Shin Bet give a political view or two (after-all, it would be impossible for them not to), the political context of their work is mostly absent from The Gatekeepers. This is understandable because to explore the politics of the Arab-Israeli conflict in any kind of depth would take much longer than the documentary’s 101 minutes. Yet, for anyone who does not know anything about Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and the wider Middle East, The Gatekeepers is likely to be hard going, since he/she would have little idea as to why Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1982, or why the Oslo Accords were signed in 1994, or what led to the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000, among other matters.

Avi Dichter, the most recent head of Shin Bet to be interviewed.

Avi Dichter, the most recent head of Shin Bet to be interviewed.

Nevertheless, regardless of whether one does or doesn’t know much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one is unlikely to come out of the film thinking highly of either the Israelis or the Palestinians. The six former heads of the Shin Bet spare no-one from culpability, whether it be the politicians or the peoples.

Over-all, The Gatekeepers is a stimulating, if morbid, portrayal of what the Shin Bet has done and the problems that the organisation continues to face on a regular basis. The six former heads of the organisation are remarkably frank and honest about their deeds, and demonstrate how responsible they feel for their actions and omissions, as well as for the events that happened under their watch. But one thing the six men do not is believe that the Shin Bet’s efforts to safeguard the Jewish state from threats of violence and terrorism will be lessening any time soon.

PG’s Tips

Advertisements

Review – Trance (15) [2013]

Trance - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Rick Smith – Breaking and Entering

Psychological thrillers, by their nature, are puzzling and mess with one’s mind. Inception, Shutter Island and Black Swan all did this with varying levels of charm, appeal and success. Danny Boyle’s impressive and sexy Trance adds something new to this testing sub-genre.

Simon (James McAvoy), unconscious after being bashed on the head by a batton. As a result, he cannot remember what he did with the painting.

Simon (James McAvoy), unconscious after being bashed on the head by a batton. As a result, he cannot remember what he did with the painting.

  Trance centres round Simon (James McAvoy), who works for a London-based company that auctions expensive paintings. The company has a security system in place to prevent the paintings from getting stolen, and Simon is part of the system.

However, when Franck (Vincent Cassel) leads a gang to steal a precious painting during an auction, the painting disappears. Simon, the last person to have handled the painting before its disappearance, was smacked on the head while he removed the painting. Since then, he has developed amnesia and so he can’t remember where he put the painting. In a desperate bid to find the painting, Franck decides that Simon must go to Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist. Elizabeth believes that by hypnotising Simon, she can get him to recollect the location of the painting.

Trance’s plot is clever and innovative. The film is fast-paced from the off, intense, violent and engaging. It is complex and confusing too, since it constantly does back and forth in time, unravelling what happened to the painting as well as explaining the various (and sinister) motivations of the characters. Moreover, and similar to Black Swan, one is never sure in Trance when one is watching reality or a dream (or a memory or a possible memory). All of this keeps viewers firmly on their toes because no-one can be sure as to where the film is going.

Simon undergoing hypnotherapy with Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) in an attempt to regain his memory regarding the painting.

Simon undergoing hypnotherapy with Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) in an attempt to regain his memory regarding the painting.

Although, it is dubious as to whether Trance’s storyline actually makes sense. Again, this is not novel to the sub-genre: it is uncertain whether the plots for The Machinist or Shutter Island added up (but no-one would argue that those were atrocities to cinema, like Sucker Punch or The Lady In the Water); while Fight Club and Inception demanded that one see them twice (at least) before being able to appreciate (or understand) those movies, and few had reason to complain about those excellent films either. Perhaps, the latter is true for Trance. However, there are some quite significant plot issues that could undermine the film and its realism (if one believes in the effectiveness of hypnotism/hypnotherapy, of course), but these are not going to be discussed here as they would spoil the thrill for those who haven’t seen the movie.

The force of Trance’s storyline is matched by the three main (and more or less only) cast members; James McAvoy in particular. Far from his relaxed demeanour as Charles Xavier/Professor X in X-Men: First-Class, his performance as Simon resembles that of his (brilliant but crazed) stage performance as MacBeth. Nothing illustrates this similitude more than the intensity in Simon’s bombardier blue eyes, as the hypnotherapy, combined with his own problems take effect on him.

Similarly, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson play well, but not with the same power as McAvoy. As Franck, Cassel does a decent job as a shady, amoral character. Yet, it is hard to classify him as the villain here since there is no-one who is particularly good in Trance (some people are just much worse than others). But if one does view Franck as the main antagonist, then one may not feel entirely satisfied with Cassel’s performance because he does not possess the look or the flair to make himself a dangerous villain on screen, unlike the cunning Liam Neeson in Batman Begins/The Dark Knight Rises, or the terrifying Michal Zurawski in In Darkness, or the flamboyant Javier Bardem in Skyfall.

Franck (Vincent Cassel), furtherst right, keeping a worryingly close eye on Simon's treatement, with his group of thugs alongside him to illustrate the consequences for Simon if he fails to shake off his amnesia.

Franck (Vincent Cassel), furtherst right, keeping a worryingly close eye on Simon’s treatment, with his group of thugs at his side to illustrate the consequences for Simon if he fails to shake off his amnesia.

While as Elizabeth the hypnotherapist, the stunning Dawson wonderfully holds her patients (as well as the audience) under her spell, as if ravishingly embodying the psychological thrill of the movie and the sub-genre in one attempt.

Over-all, Trance is a mind-bending and gripping film that is a worthy addition to the sub-genre of psychological thrillers. The movie has its flaws, but to a limited extent these should be disregarded because Boyle’s film is original, appealing and stylish. Furthermore, like all noteworthy psychological thrillers, Trance takes one out of one’s comfort zone and, to its credit, keeps one in thought long after the film has ended.

PG’s Tips