Camp X-Ray (2014) Film Review from the 58th Annual BFI London Film Festival, a movie written and directed by Peter Sattler, starring Kristen Stewart, Peyman Moaadi, Lane Garrison, Tara Holt, Cory Michael Smith, Marco Khan, and Julia Duffy.
Camp X-Ray takes an intelligent look at an unfamiliar subject. Peter Sattler’s directorial debut is about a female soldier stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where she is tasked with guarding the ‘detainees’ and ensuring that they are kept in check by whatever means necessary.
Kristen Stewart portrays PFC Amy Cole, the lead of the film. It was perhaps her most complete performance to date. That may in part be due to the plethora of themes and sub-themes running throughout the film. The film is essentially about patriotism, cultural differences, loyalty, friendship, and survival. At its best, the film attempts to break down the figurative walls that separate two people. Two people, who are both a little bit lost, and a little out of their depth.
The film starts off in stellar fashion: the first thing we see is a man being abducted and dragged away. The next thing we see is the silhouette of a dark figure. As first impressions go, that is definitely one that would grab your attention. The film does drag on, and some scenes feel fake and unfamiliar.
PFC Cole is told early on to view the inmates as a bunch of ‘Hannibals’. They can’t be trusted at all and they will make every attempt to get in the officer’s heads. Stewart portrays Cole as a staunch individual, who is still not too sure of how to calibrate the reality of her situation with her expectations. She is heard telling a fellow officer to refer to the inmates as ‘detainees’ and not ‘prisoners’, because, “Prisoners are subject to the Geneva Conventions. Detainees are not.”
The focus of the film is on the relationship/friendship she develops with an inmate named Amir Ali. Amir has been detained for years now, for a crime he says he did not commit. Disregarding her orders, Amy initiates a conversation with Amir. It starts off when Amy is doing her rounds with a book cart and Amir begs her to get the last Harry Potter book. During the course of the film and through their various struggles, Amy begins to see Amir as the only one at the base who truly treats her with any kind of respect. Amy is often ridiculed and reprimanded for what is perceived by her peers as inherent weakness.
The film does wonders showing the uphill battle female soldiers have to fight every day. They are part of what is mostly a boys club. During one prisoner humiliation-punishment, Amy visibly distressed, is asked by her trainer, “Are you a soldier or a female soldier?”; adding that he doesn’t have any problems with male soldiers when he asks them to carry out these tasks.
The film sways from the disturbing to the poignant with ease. You begin to feel for Amy and the situation she is in. Stewart’s tightly wound character meshes perfectly with Moaadi’s more effervescent personality; their relationship adds the much needed depth this film deserved.
This is easily one of Stewart’s better performances. That may be due to the script or finally being free from her Twilight burden. Whatever the reason, she was undoubtedly the stand-out performer in this film.
Sattler has used this film to beautifully articulate the cultural clashes that exist when fighting a foe overseas, as well as adding a ‘human’ aspect to how the world sees certain individuals’ post 9/11. The film attempts to find balance between how the world is and how the world is perceived to be. This film was far more enjoyable than I had expected it to be. It is definitely worth a watch.