By rights, Mosab Hassan Yousef should have been the next king of Hamas, the terrorist-military organization that has been waging war against Israel since the late 1980s. After all, Mosab's father is Sheikh Hassan Yousef, one of the group's founding members. "Hamas wasn't just a movement to us," Mosab says, "it was our family's business."
Mosab is the subject of "The Green Prince," Nadav Schirman's gripping documentary set against the internecine battle between Israel and Palestine. Beginning in 1997, Mosab became a highly valuable informant for Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service. "The Green Prince," which takes its title from Mosab's code name, explains how that extraordinary turn of events came about, how Mosab went undetected and how he slept at night betraying his family and friends for 10 years. The movie also tells the story of Mosab's calculating and seemingly exploitative Israeli handler, Gonen Ben Yitzhak. "The first day handling him," Yitzhak says with a mordant smile, "was the first day of the end of my career."
In some ways, "The Green Prince" is as familiar a story as "On the Waterfront" or "The Departed," to name just two classic informant movies. Mosab, increasingly troubled by Hamas' willingness to kill and torture its own, allows Yitzhak's whispering voice to seep into his head. Once Mosab is on board, "The Green Prince" unfolds as a thriller, with real-life cat-and-mouse games, elaborate sting operations and fake-outs within fake-outs. More than once, Mosab is arrested just for show.
After all the espionage and danger in "The Green Prince" comes a rather moving epilogue. The informant and his handler developed an unlikely friendship over the years, one that would result in an unexpected sacrifice. "The Green Prince" shows the human and personal cost of the Israel-Palestine war, but ends with a small ray of hope for peace.
PLOT How an heir to the Hamas throne became an informant for Israel.
RATING PG-13 (violent imagery, language)
BOTTOM LINE A compelling documentary that works as both real-life thriller and moving drama.