Sundance Film Review: ‘The Green Prince’

The Green Prince Sundance

Nadav Schirman's documentary never justifies the decision to bring Mosab Hassan Yousef's page-turning memoir to the screen.

With “The Green Prince,” an extraordinarily engrossing tale becomes an extremely uncinematic experience in the hands of Israeli documentarian Nadav Schirman. Like the book “Son of Hamas” by Mosab Hassan Yousef, the film tells of Yousef’s decade-long stint as an Israeli secret-service informant, a job that required him to betray his father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a key member of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement. But Yousef makes a frustratingly inarticulate talking head, and his friendly relationship with the Shin Bet’s agent Gonen Ben Yitzhak — often onscreen as well — never carries the proper weight. Commercial prospects look dicey.    

Just as problematic is Schirman’s slew of awkward visual annotations — including the repeated use of drone shots of dubious provenance — that do little to enrich the narrative or engage the eye. In the near-total absence of actual footage of what Yousef describes, it may well be the case that his book is one of those that simply never needed to be filmed.

Certainly the story itself is a page-turner, and a few of Yousef’s statements carry a chill, as when, early in the film, he says of Hamas, “The goal was to kill Israelis, but Allah had other plans for me.”

Alas, it’s never satisfactorily explained in the film why Yousef (aka the Green Prince), apprehended in the mid-’90s for buying illegal weapons, then interrogated and imprisoned, would accept Ben Yitzhak’s offer to work for the Shin Bet, particularly given his father’s own lengthier imprisonment by the Israeli government and the younger man’s description of how cooperating with Israel is the “most shameful thing you can do in my country.”

A more dynamic screen presence than the jittery Yousef, Ben Yitzhak reveals that he holds a degree in psychology and seems to prove it in his recounting of how and why he used the Green Prince to his ends, getting him to disclose vital information about Hamas and its planned activities. Yousef mentions that he was highly opposed to the rash of suicide bombings that reached a bloody climax just before Sept. 11, 2001, an event whose enormous ramifications the film curiously neglects to note.

The glut of milky-looking surveillance footage, complete with crosshairs, quickly grows tiresome, especially as it’s never linked in any meaningful way to what the men talk about. One is left to assume that, like other visual elements of the film, these shots were either staged or lifted from the public domain.

Cinematography of the talking heads appears standard-issue. The insistently brooding score by British composer Max Richter begins, by intention or not, to drone, resembling the less abrasive variety of late-’80s Nine Inch Nails tracks. Sound recording is clear and capably mixed.

Sundance Film Review: 'The Green Prince'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema — competing), Jan. 16, 2014. Running time: 101 MIN.

Production

(Documentary — Germany-Israel-U.K.) An A-List Films, Passion Pictures, Red Box Films production, in co-production with Telepool, Urzad Prods., in association with the Documentary Co., Yes Docu, Sky Atlantic, with support of Bavarian Film Fund, German Federal Film Fund, Hessen Film Fund, New Israeli Film Fund for Cinema and TV. (International sales: Global Screen, Munich.) Produced by Navav Schirman, John Battsek, Simon Chinn. Executive producers, Thomas Weymar, Sheryl Crown, Maggie Monteith. Co-producers, Omri Uzrad, Britta Meyermann. Co-executive producers, Nicole Stott, George Chignell, Andrew Ruhemann.

Crew

Directed, written by Nadav Schirman. Camera (color, HD), Hans Fromm, Giora Bejach, Raz Dagan; editors, Joelle Alexis, Sanjeev Hathiramani; music, Max Richter; sound, Alex Claude; re-recording mixer, Stefan Korte; visual effects, Kiril Rosenfled; associate producers, Rafael Marmor, Aviram Avraham; line producer, Ralf Zimmermann.

With

Mosab Hassan Yousef, Gonen Ben Yitzhak. (English dialogue)

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  1. Atheist says:

    Great movie and unbelievable story of true humanity, sacrifice and bravery on both sides to save innocent people in a conflict that no one understands anymore.

  2. Yarden says:

    The film was not intended to amuse you.
    It was to educate you, it was to show you
    The Green Prince’s point of view.

    Did you fall asleep when he explained his point of view of why he decided to work for Israel?

    And thinking about the effect 9/11 had on the intifada in Israel/P.A? It seems that even in Hollywood most Americans have this imperialistic notion that the world revolves around them.

    Just allow other styles of cinema to maybe drip into your lack of ingenuity and maybe you can go back to reviewing movies out of your ivory tower.

  3. deniseholmberg says:

    It is a poor review & out of step with all others. Bizarre actually. What’s up Variety?

  4. logan says:

    The fact that the reviewer labels Hamas as the “Islamic Resistance” should tell you from the start the bias that this reviewer holds towards Israel. Although it is a review, it is one with a pre-concieved bias and it shows. More like a rant, not a review.

  5. Omer says:

    Very very strange review. Writing that this is not a commercial movie makes me wonder if there is a hidden agenda in this review.

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