A documentary about the high-stakes mind games that go into gathering human intelligence, The Green Prince is a taut piece of work that features just two talking heads: a prized Palestinian informant and his ever-cautious Israeli handler. The son of a hard-line Hamas leader, young Mosab Hassan Yousef watched Israeli forces storm his house to drag his father away to jail, and vowed to take revenge. But his loyalties began to shift not long after getting put behind bars himself; by age 17, he was funneling information to Shin Bet agent Gonen Ben Yitzhak, eventually taking up a post as his father’s secretary to provide the Israelis with intel useful in thwarting Hamas suicide bombings. Even as Yousef covertly undermined the mission of “the family business,” though, he bargained at every step to protect his loved ones from harm.
Based on Yousef’s 2010 memoir Son Of Hamas, Nadav Schirman’s film—an audience prizewinner at Sundance in January—briskly runs down a decade-plus of double-dealing on the front lines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, offsetting the interview footage with archival news reports, a crashing orchestral score by Max Richter, and staged aerial surveillance shots, tinted night-vision green for maximum atmosphere. Despite the excess of thriller style, though, there’s little resisting the outsize drama recounted here. The lies Yousef must tell to maintain appearances only continue to mount with time; Ben Yitzhak himself feels he must defy Shin Bet protocol and meet with Yousef one-on-one to assure the young man of his trust. The chess game of a relationship between the two becomes the crux of the film: Ben Yitzhak’s job is, essentially, to manipulate his recruits to get what he wants, while Yousef, well aware of his value to the security agency, consistently refuses to betray his own evolving set of principles, no matter the cost.
If only those principles were a little better explicated here. There’s no mystery as to why the Shin Bet would be eager to exploit a source privy to Hamas’ inner workings, but the motives of the younger man, codenamed the Green Prince, remain somewhat murky as explained. Yousef repeats that he saw his mission simply enough as “saving lives,” but the intricacies of his personal falling out with Hamas, which began when he witnessed the group torturing its own followers in prison, deserve more of an airing than they get. Yet even if the individuals and their motives themselves don’t always come into full focus, The Green Prince is an absorbing psychological study of shifting allegiances, as it follows these two men past the point when they’ve both cut ties with the Shin Bet—and reconnected only to find themselves the unlikeliest of friends.