“I know you see me as a traitor; please understand it was not you I chose to betray, but your understanding of what it means to be a hero”.
The pleading lines to his family, that kick off Mosab Hassan Yousef’s autobiography Son Of Hamas; now adapted for the big screen under the friendlier title of The Green Prince. Directed by Israeli filmmaker Nadav Schirman and produced by British Oscar-winner Simon Chinn (Searching For Sugarman and Man On Wire), the film is being loaded with praise, but is it worth it? Here’s a range of views:
Nadav Schirman’s film is as gripping as any high-concept Hollywood thriller and as psychologically knotty as Greek tragedy. The Green Prince (named after Mosab’s Israeli codename) juggles archive footage with elegant reconstructions, while clearing centre stage for the engrossing testimonials from both Mosab and wily Gonen Ben Yitzhak, his Israeli handler. On first recruiting “the prince”, Ben Yitzhak urges him to continue his studies and become a pillar of the community. This, Mosab reflects ruefully, is exactly the advice his own parents would have given him.
If The Green Prince sustains the tension of a well-executed thriller, it is achieved at the cost of a dispassionate objectivity. There are no outside voices to augment a film that becomes the increasingly sentimental story of a boundary-breaching friendship. In one emotional moment, Mr. Yousef recalls cooking a last supper with his father while knowing that they are both about to be arrested…For all his intensity, Mr. Yousef never really tries to explain why he acted as he did. Perhaps there is no explanation beyond his revulsion at the carnage of war.
“Two men looking at the camera and talking are the heart of the matter. This is not great filmmaking, but their story is so involving that it doesn’t matter as much as it might.”
I would describe the film as a record of Yousef’s facial expressions, gestures and tones of voice as he sits in a nondescript room and narrates his story… There is simply no way to be sure of when Yousef started to collaborate with the Israelis, the circumstances under which he agreed to work with them, or even whether he was a Shin Bet informer at all…Most important of all, we can’t be sure of Yousef’s motives. Yousef and Ben Yitzhak are opaque figures in the film, who perform rather than reveal their characters.
Nicola Christie, Jewish Quarterly:
Intriguing but strangely unimpactful. Mosab is like an actor delivering lines that don’t hit; his story might be great, but he’s the wrong vehicle for it. Gonen is much more engaging. Should be made again, as a full-blown Hollywood drama, casting better actors. Read the book to see why filmmakers jumped on the story.