Daily | Sundance 2014 | Nadav Schirman’s THE GREEN PRINCE

The Green Prince

‘The Green Prince’

“Nadav Schirman’s terrific double-dealing documentary tells the story of Mosab Yousef, the cherished son of Palestinian firebrand and Hamas co-founder Sheikh Hassan Yousef, who agrees to spy on his father for the Israeli secret service,” writes the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks. “Mosab insists that he is motivated by disillusion with Hamas, and by a desire to bring peace to the region, although it is clear that he’s also excited by the subterfuge…. Schirman’s film (produced by the team behind Man on Wire and Searching For Sugarman) is as gripping as any high-concept Hollywood thriller and as psychologically knotty as Greek tragedy.”

The Hollywood Reporter‘s Boyd van Hoeij finds that The Green Prince is “almost staged like something out of Syriana or Zero Dark Thirty…. Schirman’s third feature documentary—after The Champagne Spy, about a son and his Mossad agent father, and In the Dark, about celebrity terrorist Carlos the Jackal and his wife and daughter—is yet another film that explores incredibly complex relationships set against the backdrop of terrorism. And though the political background is fascinating, what finally resonates is the fact Schirman manages to humanize both Yousef and his Israeli handler, Gonen Ben Yitzhak, who would become an unlikely friend and ally.”

“The source material might easily have made for a narrative film,” suggests Guy Lodge at In Contention. “Yousef’s autobiography Son of Hamas was published in 2010 and became something of a hot news item, serving as it did as evidence in Yousef’s legal battle for political asylum in the US. He wrote it, he says, because he was struggling to get Americans to believe his story at all…. This is engrossing, even hair-raising stuff, though in packaging it as a taut political thriller—complete with shadowy re-enactments and sinister drone footage—Schirman perhaps doesn’t best serve the more searching story of personal transformation at hand here.”

Son of Hamas

Some suggest the book might yet become a narrative feature

The Green Prince is a little too declaratory,” finds the Dissolve‘s Noel Murray, “although it is sharp when it comes to exploring the ironies of the situation: how Mosab wound up in a position where he could’ve helped guide Hamas policy toward making peace, but couldn’t, because Shin Bet needed him to keep pretending to be a terrorist, so he’d get all the juicy inside intel. The Green Prince suffers a bit—at least to me—from the overfamiliarity of its milieu, which has been the subject of several documentaries over the past couple of years.”

Writing for Screen, Anthony Kaufman allows that it “follows in the footsteps of recent documentary triumphs about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, such as The Gatekeepers, 5 Broken Cameras and Waltz with Bashir,” but it’s also “more than the docu-thriller it initially appears to be, with its pulse-pounding score by Waltz with Bashir composer Max Richter and ominous aerial surveillance footage of Israel. Ultimately, it is a surprisingly moving story of a young man’s life-long struggle with shame, and the unlikely friendship he forged in his attempts to escape that burden.”

For Variety‘s Rob Nelson, “an extraordinarily engrossing tale becomes an extremely uncinematic experience” and “Yousef makes a frustratingly inarticulate talking head… 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.”

Filmmaker gets a word with Schirman.

Update, 1/19: Schirman “recreates many of the meetings from the point of view of imagined surveillance cameras or spotter planes, and audiences can spend so much time subconsciously trying to tell real from reel that they resist investing in the story,” writes the Boston Globe‘s Ty Burr. “Or they would if this story weren’t so engrossing, or if Yousef and Ben-Itzhak weren’t such compelling narrators of their own drama. Documentaries can overdo the talking-head sequences—Dinosaur 13, a tale of paleontology and injustice also playing at Sundance, practically drowns to death in them—but The Green Prince has two talkers whose calm belief in the rightness of their actions energizes everything they say. The film ends up offering a small window of harmony between Palestinian and Israeli that, tellingly, could never take place on Israeli soil.”

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