DAVID STRAT­TON ON SE­CRETS OF THE GATE­KEEP­ERS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page -

IT sounds like one of those old-fash­ioned hor­ror films, but Para­noia turns out to be a sober drama, with a few mild thrills, set in the hi-tech world of cor­po­rate white-col­lar work­ers. The un­likely nar­ra­tive, which in­volves an up-and-com­ing player as­signed by his boss to spy on a ri­val com­pany, is dis­tin­guished by some pretty good ac­tors and the slick di­rec­tion of Aus­tralian Robert Luketic, who suc­ceeds in bring­ing more to the screen­play, by Ja­son Hall and Barry L. Levy from a novel by Joseph Finder, than it prob­a­bly deserves.

Luketic isn’t the only Aussie on board this very New York story; in ad­di­tion there is Ju­lian McMa­hon as a sin­is­ter en­forcer, but his is a small part. More im­por­tantly, Liam Hemsworth, over­flow­ing with looks and charisma, plays Adam Cassidy, a loyal em­ployee of the mighty Wyatt Cor­po­ra­tion, whose chief ex­ec­u­tive, Nicholas Wyatt (Gary Old­man), sports what sounds like a cock­ney ac­cent you could cut with a knife. Adam, who lives with his sickly but wise old fa­ther (Richard Drey­fuss) in an un­fash­ion­able part of town, makes the mis­take of en­cour­ag­ing a small group of fel­low em­ploy­ees to make a pitch to Wyatt for some fu­tur­is­tic thingummy they’ve de­signed, but their pro­posal is dis­missed by Wyatt, who dis­misses Adam and his pals as well.

For­tu­nately for them, and the script — but, again, hardly cred­i­ble — their Wyatt-owned credit cards, sup­posed to be for le­git­i­mate ex­penses, haven’t been in­stantly can­celled, so they’re able to cel­e­brate be­ing fired with a boozy night on the town that ends with Adam en­joy­ing a one-night stand with beau­ti­ful Emma (Am­ber Heard), a stranger he meets in a club. Next day, Wyatt calls Adam into his of­fice and of­fers to re­in­state him and the oth­ers if he agrees to in­fil­trate the ri­val Eikon Corp and re­port back to Wyatt on the de­vel­op­ment of its lat­est piece of tech­nol­ogy. The boss of Eikon is Jock God­dard (Har­ri­son Ford), a for­mer col­league but now deadly ri­val of Wyatt. Wouldn’t you know, Emma turns out to be a se­nior em­ployee at Eikon, which just serves to com­pli­cate things even fur­ther.

In this murky world it seems you can be killed for know­ing too much about some piece of ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy, and Luketic — bet­ter known for his come­dies — has no trou­ble whip­ping up scenes of mild ten­sion at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals. Hemsworth and Heard are both ex­ceed­ingly at­trac­tive, while Old­man and Ford look as though they’ve seen bet­ter days (es­pe­cially Ford, who ap­pears quite old and al­most bald — it’s a bit of a shock to see In­di­ana Jones look­ing this care­worn). It was also odd that all the nasty things said about Eikon seemed, at times, to re­fer to the film’s dis­trib­u­tor, the sim­i­larly pro­nounced Icon.

For a while, Para­noia in­trigues but even­tu­ally it be­comes clear that the plot lacks sub­stance and the char­ac­ters are su­per­fi­cial. IT’S not of­ten that you sit through a film with a feel­ing of grow­ing as­ton­ish­ment that it could ever have been made, let alone re­leased, but The Gate­keep­ers is one of those films. It’s es­sen­tially a ‘‘ talk­ing heads’’ doc­u­men­tary, in­ter­spersed with news­reel footage, but the ‘‘ heads’’ in ques­tion are the six men who for­merly headed Is­rael’s Shin Bet, or counter- ter­ror­ism agency. Th­ese men were charged with life-or-death de­ci­sions on be­half of the govern­ment of the day, and they rarely, if ever, speak out in pub­lic and al­most never as frankly as they do here. It’s safe to say this con­tro­ver­sial film could have been made, and pub­licly screened, only in a demo­cratic coun­try.

The film opens with aerial sur­veil­lance footage of the most chill­ing kind: far be­low, as re­mote as an ob­ject in a video game, a ve­hi­cle is driv­ing through nar­row city streets, a tar­get pinned in the crosshairs of the de­vice that is film­ing it. In­side that ve­hi­cle is some­one con­sid­ered to be a ter­ror­ist, and within a few mo­ments the tar­get ex­plodes; mis­sion ac­com­plished, but at what cost and with what col­lat­eral dam­age?

By start­ing his doc­u­men­tary with such a pow­er­ful se­quence, di­rec­tor Dror Moreh in­di­cates this will be no white­wash. He wants to know how de­ci­sions like this were taken and who took them. The an­swers come from the six for­mer Shin Bet chiefs, start­ing with Avra­ham Shalom, who was in change in 1980-86; the most re­cent ‘‘ gate­keeper’’ is Avi Dichter (2000-06). As th­ese hard men talk about their work, their achieve­ments and their frus­tra­tions, Moreh lays out for us a pot­ted his­tory of the Mid­dle East con­flict, start­ing in 1967 when, in the wake of the Six-Day War and the sub­se­quent ex­pan­sion of Is­rael’s bor­ders, a mil­lion Pales­tini­ans found them­selves un­der Is­raeli con­trol in the West Bank and Gaza.

The most grip­ping part of this his­tory shows the Oslo ac­cords of 1993, when Bill Clin­ton suc­ceeded in bring­ing to­gether Is­rael’s prime min­is­ter Yitzhak Rabin and the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s Yasser Arafat; the agree­ment was re­jected by mil­i­tants on both sides, lead­ing, among other tragedies, to the as­sas­si­na­tion of Rabin two years later.

Through all this, the Shin Bet lead­ers, in com­pli­ance with their po­lit­i­cal masters, kept a close watch on ex­trem­ists. ‘‘ Luck­ily for us, ter­ror­ism in­creased so we had a lot of work,’’ one says. An­other ad­mits that ‘‘ we’ve be­come cruel’’ and that ‘‘ we win ev­ery bat­tle but lose the war’’. An­other ex­presses his be­lief that all the mil­i­tant Pales­tini­ans seek is to make Is­raelis suf­fer.

Why have th­ese men spo­ken out, and spo­ken so frankly? Yaakov Peri (1988-94) reck­ons that ‘‘ af­ter re­tir­ing from this job you be­come a bit of a leftie’’. Maybe, but the six in­ter­vie­wees, strik­ingly pho­tographed in closeup by Avner Sha­haf, never deny that, es­sen­tially, they were killers. They clearly have taken the blame for the poli­cies of the coun­try’s elected lead­ers, and they ap­pear to have taken this op­por­tu­nity for a bit of pay­back.

I was in­trigued as to how this film was re­ceived in Is­rael and did a lit­tle in­ves­ti­gat­ing. As of late last month it was still play­ing at a cin­ema in Tel Aviv, at­tract­ing au­di­ences and cre­at­ing de­bate. My Is­raeli con­tact of­fered the view: ‘‘ No one ex­pected th­ese se­cre­tive peo­ple to open their mouths, and even if the cen­sors did snip some of [what they said], what re­mains is a pretty pow­er­ful state­ment but only the tip of the ice­berg.’’ He also noted that in Is­rael ‘‘ ev­ery­body has some­thing to say about it, in­clud­ing those who refuse to see it be­cause they con­sider it an act of provo­ca­tion or even trea­son’’. Strong stuff.

And now Aus­tralian au­di­ences have the op­por­tu­nity to judge for them­selves what the fuss is all about. All I can add is that I don’t think I’ll eas­ily for­get much of the con­tent of this well-made and fre­quently re­mark­able film.

Liam Hemsworth in Para­noia, top, and Yaakov Peri in The Gate­keep­ers

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