Scour the works of John Buchan, W. Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, and John le Carré and you'd be hard-pressed to find a spy story as compelling or fantastical as The Green Prince, an Israeli espionage film set during the second Palestinian Intifada.
It is part of a mini-invasion of spy stories about the Israeli-Arab conflict, including Bethlehem, Omar, and, to a certain extent, Big Bad Wolves. Yet director Nadav Schirman's movie, which tells the story of a young Palestinian who spies for Israeli intelligence, isn't a scripted thriller but a documentary.
The title refers to the code name assigned by Israel's domestic security service, Shin Bet, to one of its most important and highly protected assets, Mosab Hassan Yousef. He was dubbed a prince because his father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, was a founding leader of Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic organization with an active military wing.
Schirman, whose film is partly based on Mosab Yousef's 2010 autobiography, Son of Hamas, takes a back-to-basics approach. The docu doesn't have a narrator or historical reenactments.
Instead, the story of Yousef's recruitment and 10-year service to Shin Bet is told in a simple, direct manner by its two principal subjects: Yousef and his handler, Gonen Ben-Itzhak.
Schirman cuts back and forth from one man to the other as each tells his version of events starting from the night when then-17-year-old Yousef was arrested in 1997 for buying guns.
That's when Yousef was approached by Ben-Itzhak.
Yousef says he agreed to work for Shin Bet after discovering Hamas' ruthless methods. He says he was disgusted that Hamas militants so easily accepted the cost of suicide bombing, including the deaths of innocent Muslims. He is adamant that he became a traitor to his family because of his moral objections to Hamas' tactics and the senseless deaths around him, not because of any abiding love for Israel.
The Green Prince is an extraordinary achievement. It has all the suspense of a great espionage yarn, but it's also a powerful moral document that calls into question the tactics of terrorism.
Directed by Nadav Schirman. Distributed by Music Box Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 35 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (adult subjects, some violent, disturbing images).
Playing at: Ritz Five.