The Gatekeepers ****

No one situation is as controversial as the Israeli-Palestine one, so any further insight into the views of those involved in its history naturally provide a fascinating and ultimately compelling screen account. These Heads of Security or ‘Gatekeepers’ of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service agency who were tasked with decision making on ‘security’ in the disputed regions allegedly open up to reveal their true thoughts on the actions and reactions surrounding the Occupation in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War with some frank and debate-inviting commentary.

Filmmaker Dror Moreh’s camera is pointed directly at these six men, like a judge and jury in one, to allow us to see them reveal their thoughts, exposed to our scrutiny, and in turn, making engaging viewing. Backed up as always by news footage from the hour, this film is bound to offer a heady cocktail of contention in its aftermath. In effect, these men both admit to bad decisions that cost lives while acting somewhat delusional in other respects, as any sides in a conflict would naturally do. However, there is a genuine sense of wanting to set the record straight on camera, and a confession worded by Avraham Shalom (in charge from 1980 – 1986) that sums up the whole affair: “We became cruel”.

Moreh’s study also nicely flags a lot of paradoxes in the operation of Shin Bet that make for intriguing, indirect confessions. There is obviously a kind of despair and sobering realisation that resolution is probably futile, especially as these former bosses admit to keeping dialogue open with ‘the enemies’ as it would be a mistake not to, and there’s a suggestion that this is still a primary function. The interviewees also point out that not all terrorists are Palestinian too. This film ultimately offers no answers, merely a timeline since the Six Day War for those in charge to explain who was involved and their actions – not so much a cleansing of souls, rather adding additional inside information to each event leading up to the present day situation. You can’t help but wonder what other information was not forthcoming, or that ended up being edited out too.

The Gatekeepers is must-see, derisive viewing, a crucial document on camera for years to come, albeit it controversial for those closer to events and providing some toe-curling moments even for those who are not. One of the most chilling confessions comes from Shalom who states that terrorism provided them with work – as ironic as that sounds, like a chicken and egg situation that goes to back up the popular statement that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Place Beyond The Pines***

Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance’s second film, The Place Beyond The Pines, offers a similar moving and volatile storyline of familiar relationships as his latter. The comparison is made all the more apparent by the reappearance of ‘man of the moment’ Ryan Gosling who has made an art of brooding in quiet, pained expression of a misunderstood bad boy trying to do good – typecast again to fans’ delight in this.

The Place Beyond The Pines begins with a moderate pace to brew the characters’ emotions and regrets. It quickly mutates into a whole different commercial-style ‘cops minus robbers’ affair at the end, almost tainting the rich indie quality Cianfrance is apt at producing, and perhaps being a little too ambitious for its own good, cultivating in a contrived ending.

Gosling is tattooed bad boy Luke, a travelling motorcycle stunt rider who turns to robbing banks to provide for his newborn son after discovering he’s fathered a child with his former lover Romina (Eva Mendes). Sadly, this new employment puts him on a fatal collision course with ambitious rookie cop Avery (Bradley Cooper) who subsequently becomes both hero and snitch in a corrupt police department. Years later these men’s actions have dire consequences on the children who succeed them.

Cianfrance’s film feels like a satisfactory combination of two potentially influential films knitted together, and although the arc is clearly about following the repercussions of one man’s actions, the powerful first part that Gosling delivers in intensity and earnest but misguided folly merely highlights how lacking the latter half is. This is possibly due to the change in pace into some kind of teen angst affair – even though Dane DeHaan (of Chronicle fame) as Luke’s grownup son Jason is compelling as a loner child scorned.

Cooper who is proving his worth in more serious, meatier roles has little beyond the stereotypical ‘good cop verse bad’ to play with in this, even though there is a dramatic change in his character. In comparison to the attention to detail given to Luke (and run-time dedicated to do so), Avery’s motives feel a little less fleshed out and are re-enacted in snippets, supposedly meant to add up to depict one conflicting personality and what drives him. This isn’t helped by the plot’s attention being diverted to the sons too soon, so we miss what makes Avery’s faults so paramount to his son’s troubled development. The dots are too conveniently joined with the premeditated and almost smug conclusion.

That said anyone with offspring can relate to this film on a raw level, how all good intentions input into a child’s upbringing can go either way so it’s a poignant and troubling watch in this respect and it’s where its power ultimately lies. The Place Beyond The Pines is obviously a labour of love for director, actor and character alike. As a viewer it requires investment in its message of how crucial decisions are in moulding impressionable beings, more than just a passing interest in the A-list cast to really make its mark.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Oblivion ***

The future of mankind is ripe and fertile filmmaking ground, always holding some potential intrigue and hopefully throwing up new questions about our possible destiny. The latter is a must in the sci-fi genre, but not to the extent that some questions leave you unnecessarily hanging, in terms of simple plot explanation.

It’s true to say Tron Legacy director Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion starring box office biggie Tom Cruise is very much an homage to all sci-fi greats, from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and The Matrix to RoboCop, even mirroring Disney’s WALL-E with its strong environmental issues. Stylish and slick production design aside, it’s very much a case of déjà vu, turning into a ‘spot the original trope’ game. At least Cruise fans get value for money as the dedicated actor delivers an equally dedicated performance once again that’s hardly surprising.

Cruise is probe engineer Jack, living and working alongside partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) as an ‘affective team’ tasked with making sure battle-scarred and decimated planet Earth provides the last of its natural resources to the surviving population living in space. However, Empire State Building flashbacks, the harrowing rescue of crash victim Julia (Olga Kurylenko) and an encounter with the supposed ‘enemy’, the ‘scavs’, an underground group of resistance fighters, starts Jack questioning the real reasons behind extracting the remaining resources, as well as his own purpose.

Oblivion has an entertaining, timeless and ethereal quality to it that 2001 did, as well as a sinister, computerised control freak at the helm (voiced by Melissa Leo), pulling mankind’s strings and meddling with minds. What starts out as a foreboding viewing experience with all the mysteries intact and yet unexplored, plus Cruise as Jack, our willing and capable guide, begins to lose steam during its two-hour-plus run-time as you struggle to get past a mash-up role call of elements of legendary sci-fi flicks, all the while waiting (and longing) for some originality that would allow this film to join their ranks.

Even the true value and mindset of the ‘enemy’, led by the wise and all-knowing Beech (Morgan Freeman), feels inadequately underdeveloped, cultivating in the usual ‘safe’ monologue from the leader as to their journey and their goal, while visually, smacking of a re-worked version of Terminator films that depict the underground plight of mankind post the apocalyptic man-verses-machine nuclear war.

Admittedly, Kosinski is a big fan of gadgetry (and his love of bikes), allowing his agile A-list star to show off his acute action hero skills that made him a hit in Minority Report and Mission: Impossible. The writer-director also doesn’t miss a trick in reminding us of the importance of environment preservation and what could be lost by portraying Jack’s idyllic mountain lake hideaway that somehow has been left untouched (complete with drinkable fresh water) by the planetary conflict.

If one can get past the annoying question as to the primary reason for the systematic plundering of resources that isn’t quite satisfactorily answered at the end, Oblivion does offer another serene, futuristic outlook to be fully immersed in and simultaneously threatened by, as well as a keen platform to show off its talented cast. It’s just a shame that the script is somewhat lacking with important untied ends, sadly following the pitfalls of last year’s Prometheus. The question of mankind’s fate should always be a topic of lively debate post viewing, but not frustrated its audience. That said Oblivion is the kind of well-polished film that will undoubtedly do well, solely as it relies on Cruise to carry it up the box office chart, rather than providing a unique voice or idea.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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