2015, NR, 75 min. Directed by Sam de Jong. Starring Ayoub Elasri, Elsie de Brauw, Olivia Lonsdale, Freddie Tratlehner, Sigrid ten Napel, Jorik Scholten, Chaib Massaoudi, Achraf Meziani, Oussama Addi.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Aug. 14, 2015
No longer a child but not yet a man (but getting there), the young protagonist in the uneven but likable Dutch film Prince is adrift in the betwixt years of late adolescence, struggling to claim an identity at the edge of 17. For Ayoub (Elasri), the low-income Amsterdam neighborhood where he lives with his lonely mother and sympathetic half-sister is a dead end on a life journey that’s barely started. He spends most of his time hanging out with the other boys in the hood, blowing up mailboxes and shooting the shit (mainly about sex, of course) to pass the time. Though his life lacks positive direction, Ayoub is not some punk-ass kid. He’s an old soul who feels deeply about things, harboring strong protective emotions for the members of his family, including his pitiful father, a perpetually strung-out junkie living on the streets, a walking ghost who haunts his son’s waking moments. But when things get darker for this troubled teenager, he gravitates toward the unwise direction of Kalpa (Tratlehner), an infamous local criminal and sociopath whose material success at a relatively young age – he dangles leather Zanotti sneakers, a joyride in a Lamborghini, and a noseful of cocaine to recruit his mark – is enticing for someone who has nothing. The seduction gives the impressionable Ayoub a sense of purpose, albeit a terribly misguided one. It makes him feel like royalty.
The not-so-fresh Prince charts a familiar cautionary tale about the bad choices economically disadvantaged young men sometimes make early in life, but to its credit, it seldom feels hackneyed or cliched. (Its bleak, depressed milieu – this isn’t the Netherlands you see on postcards – distinguishes it from the customary urban setting of American movies in the same genre.) For most of the movie, first-time director de Jong maintains control of his script, assisted by a largely nonprofessional cast highlighted by Elasri’s pivotal performance and Tratlehner’s exaggerated turn as the unnerving loose cannon who delights in breaking the law. (His commitment to committing crime is scary, like Richard Widmark’s giggling killer in Kiss of Death.) But at its narrative apex, Prince veers toward expected tragedy and then unexpectedly crumbles, both stylistically and thematically. Things start to sort out for Ayoub in a way that feels rushed and slightly facile. Broken friendships heal, thugs mend their ways (at least temporarily), and an unrequited crush starts to turn into a two-way street. Sure, it’s the ending you want, but not the one this film deserves.