Wesley Emblidge ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Editor
Most documentaries fall into one of two categories: either they’re successful as a film, or they would’ve been better off as an in-depth newspaper article. Far too many fail to take advantage of the tools presented when making a film, and instead just use their documentary as a quick information delivery device (a this year’s Fed Up is one of the more effective examples of this). Yet writer/director Nadav Schirman’s The Green Prince presents what almost seems like a new kind of documentary: one with a story so riveting and seemingly made for the movies, it almost feels like a disservice not to film it as a narrative feature.
Based on the memoir written by the film’s protagonist Mosab Hassan Yousef, The Green Prince follows events in the 90’s and early 2000’s that led to Yousef, the son of a Hamas leader in Palestine, agreeing to spy on his father and his organization for the Israeli security organization Shin Bet. Schirman structures the film around talking head interviews with Yousef and his Shin Bet handler Gonen Ben Yitzhak, and fills in the rest of it with archival footage and some refreshingly well shot reenactments (clearly taking a page from prolific documentarian Errol Morris). Yet even as these cinematic sequences (and an equally propulsive score from Max Richter) help to enliven the film, they also serve as a constant reminder of the angels that could be explored in a narrative adaptation.
Take the relationship between Yousef and Yitzhak, his handler. They have a fascinating dependance on each other that turns very emotional in the final act, and yet not once during the entire film do we get to see them interact in person. Instead, we get to listen to them both talk separately about each other and how they felt, which never gives you the full picture the way seeing them face to face would. It’s the real hook of the movie, but is never allowed to go the extra step.
Despite those quibbles, the film remains highly compelling based on its story alone. It’s as close as we get to a real life Bond or Bourne movie, a story full of double agents and explosions that’s grounded in modern political tensions. The Green Prince is certainly not a documentary that should have just stuck to being written on the page, instead it’s one that should’ve gone even further: all the way to Hollywood.
Overall Grade: B