The Green Prince


Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

The Green Prince
"Arguably, the story would benefit from the inclusion of other voices, to verify or expand upon what we're told, but despite this there is no shortage of excitement in the tale."

A true story that could be ripped from the pages of a John le Carré novel, The Green Prince reveals how Mosab Yousef - the eldest son of a key Hamas leader - was recruited by the Israeli secret service Shin Bet and spied for them for more than a decade. A prize asset for the Israelis - the documentary's title was his codename - Yousef was at the centre of the goings-on in Ramallah, living a dangerous double life and having to contend with the feeling that he was betraying his family on a daily basis.

The film is constructed around two straight-to-camera interviews - one with Yousef, the other with Gonen Ben Yitzhak, his Israeli handler - with additional reconstructions and archive footage. The line between real and reconstructed is problematically blurred due to a lack of clarification as to which is which, or of a general contextualisation of what we're being told. Indeed, it initially seems like the interviews are being performed by actors - moody shots abound of one or the other sitting in an interrogation room, or of Yousef hooded and handcuffed to a chair - and there are no titles to tell us who they are (i.e. that they are actually the people the story is about). Likewise there is a slightly artificial air to their delivery of the story, perhaps partly because the interviews are in English - which presumably is not the first language of either man - but also because as this is something they've told many times the inconsistencies have been worn smooth and are spoken without the hesitations that can make a story feel alive.

Arguably, the story would benefit from the inclusion of other voices, to verify or expand upon what we're told, but despite this there is no shortage of excitement in the tale - Yousef seems to have viewed the experience as akin to a James Bond adventure and recounts some of his subterfuge with eye-sparkling glee. While the self-justifications with which enemies view their harsh treatment of each other are evidenced throughout - both in terms of how the Israelis treated Yousef to begin with, and his interpretation of his own actions - the major psychological transformation that Yousef went through (Hamas is "the family business" and collaborating with Israel is described as being more shameful than raping your own mother) is under-examined.

Similarly, Yitzhak has a complicated relationship with Shin Bet - he describes it as his "family" but he was expelled from the organisation - that warrants further probing. In fact, both spy and handler underwent a process of conversion wherein they came to realise that they could trust each other completely - it was Yitzhak's trust of Yousef that effectively led to his dismissal from Shin Bet as he broke protocols in order to support his increasingly stressed operative.

The emotional bond between them is clearly a source of strength for Yousef - it is not exactly a spoiler to say that he blew his cover, as he would hardly be co-operating with a documentary if he was still working, but he was disowned by his family when the truth came out - and is also the most engaging aspect of the documentary. The only time Yousef's voice wavers is when he speaks of Yitzhak breaking cover - and committing a possibly treasonable act - in order to come to his aid when he most needed a friend. Their friendship - and what it means to each of them - gives the story a human aspect that is perhaps otherwise lost in the cold technicalities of espionage and the apparent lack of loyalty shown by the State to the people who serve it.

There is a cracking story here, but the telling of it falls short of the richness (politically, psychologically, emotionally) offered by the material.

Reviewed on: 12 Nov 2014
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The Green Prince packshot
How the son of a senior leader of Hamas spied for the Israeli secret services over the course of a decade.
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Director: Nadav Schirman

Writer: Nadav Schirman, Mosab Hassan Yousef

Starring: Mosab Hassan Yousef, Gonen Ben Yitzhak

Year: 2013

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany, UK, Israel

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