Review: The Green Prince (Schirman, 2013) – Sundance 2014

Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

I watched The Green Prince on opening night. My opinion may be somewhat colored by the fact that it was the first movie I watched at Sundance this year, and I was pretty excited when I saw it.

For those of you who follow world events, it may not be news to you that the son of a top Hamas leader became an Israeli spy and then wrote a book about it. Somehow I missed this headline in 2010 when the autobiography came out, so when I read the movie synopsis on the Sundance website, I had to do a double-take to make sure this was a documentary and not a dramatic feature. My husband and I then puzzled over whether the documentary would just show interviews from peripheral people involved, or if filmmaker Nadav Schirman actually had access to the central figures in the story.

Boy did he have access. The entire movie is comprised of Son of Hamas/Israeli spy Mosab Hassan Yousef and his Shin Bet handler, Gonen, recalling the events that led up to Yousef’s involvement with Israeli intelligence, the time he spent as a spy, and the aftermath of deciding to quit. It was an unbelievable story, and one that I would likely not have been exposed to if I hadn’t seen this movie. The film also explores Yousef’s interesting, somewhat idealistic (critics might say naive) view of the situation in the Middle East and the role he felt compelled to play. It was a perspective I found to be clear and courageous in its own way, though I suspect many people will disagree with me.

As an added bonus, both Mosab and Gonen were present at the Q&A session afterwards, which felt incredible to me at the time, considering what we had just watched.

My one major issue with the film is all the recreated scenes, blended in with actual footage from that time. The recreations give it a cheesy spy-movie feeling that doesn’t do justice to the real story being told.

Note: On the shuttle bus heading back to the main box office, I overheard a BBC lifestyle reporter railing against Yousef, calling him a traitor to his people and a despicable human. I had to wonder if we’d watched the same movie. A shame that someone who would likely be writing a review for BBC (or at least a re-cap of the festival?) could have so misunderstood the picture.