Reviews — 19 September 2014
This past year we’ve seen an influx of films portray the intense and complicated relationships between Israeli intelligence agencies and their Palestinian informants. Like its predecessors Bethlehem and Omar, The Green Prince leaves most of the politics behind, choosing instead to focus on the relationship that develops between two unlikely allies. Unfortunately, this documentary touted as a “psychological thriller,” strips away most of the cinematic possibilties of its subject matter and gives its audience a rather lifeless rundown of a relationship ten years in the making.
The Green Prince, directed by Nadev Schirman, is about Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of Hamas founding member Sheikh Hassan Yousef, and his eventual recruitment by Shin Bet (Israel’s security service) officer Gonen Ben Yitzhak. By using the first-person testimonials of the two men, as well as archival footage, the film seeks to relay the story of how two people, each entrenched in impossible roles and mistrustful of each other, can forge a bond of mutual respect and love.
The handler/informant dynamic is a fascinating one because it brings together hunters and prey and depends on their working in tandem together. And in the cases of the Israeli military and Palestinian informants, there is another added layer of drama and intrigue that develops with the understanding that the informants are usually risking everything to work for an enemy their people can never accept as friend, and for little reward. The question that comes to mind is why, and The Green Prince actually has one man’s answer. After seeing the brutal tactics of Hamas against its own people, Mosab agrees to work with Israeli authorities, and more specifically Gonen, if it means saving the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis.
This story has all the ingredients for a compelling film, but instead comes off as a static scene-by-scene retelling of events over a ten-year period. For a film that is supposed to be about the growing connection between two people, Gonen and Mosab couldn’t feel farther removed from each other. The use of back and forth narration by Gonen and Mosab strips away most of the cinematic tension as does the editing of the film, which is tightly constructed but lacks any real sense of danger for our protagonists. The director’s use of story chapters also compartmentalizes the retelling of these men’s experiences into easily digestible segments at the expense of delving deeper into the growing complexities of their relationship. By not spending enough time building an emotional foundation for how the relationship evolved within the strict parameters of the political forces surrounding them, the audience is left with an ending that feels strangely unsatisfying despite the hope that is present there.
It’s difficult to sustain suspense in a story when we know from the beginning both men survive their ordeal. By focusing on the physical life and death situations faced by Gonen and most especially Mosab, the film squanders the most suspenseful aspect of the story which is whether or not their relationship survives their ordeal. By the film’s end we get an answer, but because The Green Prince struggles to connect the emotional aspects in its stoic retelling of a historical event by the players involved, the conclusion palpably lacks an impassioned punch.
The Green Prince opens today at the Ritz Five.