Moaadi was similarly angstful with his superb performance in “A Separation,” yet he is also often responsible for the film’s few moments of levity. However, Stewart is the star of the show, and for the first time since playing her daughter in “Panic Room,” the leading lady conveys the understated tenacity and vulnerability that has defined much of Jodie Foster’s career. With its painfully plain-spoken conflicts and eventually oversold gestures of kindness, “Camp X-Ray” may offer frustratingly little insight into the hazy world of wartime morality, but if nothing else, it suggests that Stewart may escape her own “Twilight”-shaped prison yet.Teen Vogue
It's not every day you see one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood play a tough soldier who endures the unthinkable. No surprise, then, that we were mesmerized by Kristen Stewart's intense performance in new movie Camp X-Ray, which just had its Sundance premiere.MovieManMenzel
We've never seen the Twilight alum do anything like this, and her performance is truly eye-opening. It's a refreshing reminder that young stars are best served by branching out into surprising new territory, even when, like with Camp X-Ray, the work may never reach wider audiences. (Insider info: Sundance movies don't always get distribution deals.) Kristen took a risk with this role, and if nothing else, she's proving to her fellow actors and to movie critics alike that she's ready for the next big step in her career.
I was lucky enough to attend the World Premiere screening of the latest Kristen Stewart film Camp X-Ray. Before coming to the festival, I always tend to read about the films premiering and this one in particular was generating a lot of online chatter. Truth be told, Camp X-Ray sounded like it was going to kick some major ass and be the perfect film to showcase Kristen Stewart’s talent now that the notorious Twilight Saga is over. Needless to say, I was pumped for the film, but did it live up to the hype and my expectations?LEXPRESS: (Translation thanks to SomeLostBliss)
Kristen Stewart is one of those actresses that people either hate or love. I happen to be on the latter half of that equation. I personally feel that Kristen Stewart is really underrated as an actress because all people ever talk about when you hear the name Kristen Stewart or Kstew as the cool kids say, is Bella from Twilight. I personally feel the same way about Kristen Stewart that I feel about Miles Teller and that is that they both should stay far away from studio films and just do independent films. It seems with independent projects actors are actually challenged and as a result showcase how much potential they actually have. Stewart is hands down, the core reason to watch Camp X-Ray. As Amy Cole, Stewart explores a new level of her acting and her performance here is even better than some of her best work to date in films like Welcome to The Rileys and The Runaways. Stewart’s performance is emotionally charged and really showcases how a woman would feel and act if they were in a place like Guantanamo Bay.
All in All, I will still recommend Camp X-Ray for the two lead performances and a decent debut for writer/director Peter Sattler. While the film does have it’s flaws, Stewart and Moaadi carry the film and make it worth watching especially when they get real emotional or manipulative with their characters. It is definitely a film that isn’t for everyone, but if you are someone who still wants to take a stab at Guantanamo Bay, well I would say this is a decent effort.
MovieManMenzel final rating for Camp X-Ray is a 7 out of 10.
While we are used to it, we are still always impressed by the ability of American cinema to use hot political topics that are in the heart of today's preoccupations. Such is the case for this "Camp X-Ray" in which the action takes place inside this camp of Guantanamo, cancer that plagues democratic American values for some, but necessary evil to eradicate terrorism for others. This Guantanamo opened by Bush & that Obama had promised to close... Thie Guantanamo that Sattler describes on a day-to-day basis through the soldiers in charge of the supervision of inmates. One of them in particular, who is going to forge a friendship with one of the other, breaking the rule of this logical war between the two sides. Sattler has the merit of not thinking in a binary and manichean mode in his portrait of the military, like in his description of the prisoners. But this permanent search for balance and this will, somewhat too noticeable, to display a symbol of a possible reconciliation through these two individuals end up enclosing his story in an academic discourse. But the outstanding performance of all the actors prevents any tearful and pessimistic drift. And in the first place, this striking performance by Kristen Stewart as the female lead. She confirms, after Welcome To The Rileys or The Runaways and while awaiting the next Assayas, that she totally set herself free from the Twilight label. And to see the woman who recently found herself harassed by the vultures from the media who have no respect whatsoever for her private life hold the central role of a movie with such a controversial topic says a lot about her temperament. This commitment where only hits are taken is rare enough to be emphasized.Gimme Some Film:
Camp X-Ray is an ambitious first feature by Peter Sattler with a gutsy performance by Kristen Stewart. Sattler hides big topics—Guantanamo Bay and moral surety (are you sure you’re one of the good guys?)—in small conversations between a green Gitmo guard (Kristen Stewart) and a talkative detainee (Payman Maadi of A Separation fame) who’s been locked up for eight years. This is not a sweeping political epic or a star-crossed love story. It’s a collection of moments between two very different people, some brutal, some beautiful, that add up to an unlikely friendship in a horrific place. Sattler appropriately called it “a small story about big things,” during the post-premiere Q&A.Telegraph UK:
Stewart does a fine job crafting soldier Cole’s hard shell…and letting it break at just the right times. Maadi is riveting as Ali, a man struggling to hold onto his dignity any way he can. Neither is a saint, but they struggle together toward something that looks a lot like good. It’s a human, everyday kind story. It mumbles a little, sometimes. Its running Harry Potter jokes are neither timely nor cool, just like most of real life. (Which made them all the more charming to me.) The climax was intimate in scale (no worlds hung in the balance) yet had deep moral implications for both characters. Again, just like in real life. Yes, in some places, the conversations go on too long. And I would’ve liked to have seen a little more of what motivated Cole to start opening up to Ali; perhaps that was clearer in some of the hundreds of scenes Sattler said he wrote that weren’t shot. But overall, I was moved by both the film’s intent and its sincere execution.
The macro-politics of Guantanamo Bay are kept firmly under lock and key in Peter Sattler's debut feature. He focuses instead on the human interaction between a recently arrived young guard, Private Cole (Kristen Stewart), and one of her detainees - to call them prisoners would be to contravene the Geneva Convention.Examiner:
We know only what Cole knows about detainee 471 (Payman Maadi), which is not an awful lot, but as the monotony and pointlessness of her shifts drag on, the two begin to form a tentative friendship, hinging on a combination of Harry Potter and Sudoku. If that sounds somewhat unlikely, there are more far-fetched plot machinations to come and it is down to the strength of the acting that the film succeeds as far as it does.
Stewart, who starred in the Twilight franchise, has sometimes been criticised for her stern facade but here it serves her well and makes her eventual descent into emotional territory more stark. Maadi effortlessly takes his character from gallows humour to anger and despair. Sattler does an impressive job of stitching unpleasant facts about Guantanamo into the narrative - from those tricky Convention semantics to Cole's discovery that the cell lights are never turned off at night.
He also shows how Cole becomes as captive and isolated as those she is guarding - in a nod to ongoing concerns about women in the US armed forces - but his soft-focus approach to this recruit with a heart of gold denies the film any lasting punch.
t's easy to forget after years of watching her waste away in the Twilight franchise, but Kristen Stewart has always been a sure talent who walked to the beat of her own drum. More often than her detractors care to admit, Stewart has shown a maturity well beyond her years, and a ferocity that has made her perfect for playing strong, independent women with a bit of a an edge. That innate toughness makes her the perfect choice to play a defiant Guantanamo Bay prison guard in Peter Sattler's Camp X-Ray, a simplistic look at the military's inhumane treatment of detainees.Variety:
On her first day she gets into a scrap with an inmate and, catching an elbow to the face, smiles at the physical altercation. Is this going to be a lean, mean, unsparing look at the people who have made Guantanamo such a black mark on American foreign policy?
Sattler has constructed a competently made film about people and empathy rather than Gitmo's real-life scandals. While terribly under-developed, flashes of poignancy occasionally illuminate Ali and Amy's growing friendship, aided by strong performances by the two leads. Dressed down in a way we've never seen her before, Stewart's riveting, tough and vulnerable performance may be the finest of her career. Moadi, who some may recall from Oscar-winning foreign film A Separation, is a whirlwind of rage, humor, and despair as the possibly-innocent Ali, who is faced with an uncertain future.
While flawed in execution, Camp X-Ray tells us traditional notions of good and evil no longer apply in a misguided place like Gitmo, and all who find themselves there are trapped behind walls of concrete and steel.
Channeling Jodie Foster in “The Silence of the Lambs,” Kristen Stewart delivers a solid performance as a rookie Guantanamo Bay guard in “Camp X-Ray,” a competently directed, politically questionable film whose most appreciative viewers will leave feeling better about Gitmo. Personalizing the war on terror through its story of the tricky friendship that develops between Stewart’s tough-and-tender private and a Middle Eastern inmate (Payman Maadi) whom she’s instructed never to call a prisoner (those are protected by the Geneva Convention), first-time writer-director Peter Sattler’s pic means very well, but strains credibility and ethics alike. Commercial prospects appear limited.The Daily Beast:
Much of the dialogue-driven film has Maadi’s Ali, more cat than mouse, and Stewart’s Cole, frightened but drawn in, conversing through the tiny window in his cell, a conceit that puts the pic firmly in the company of “Lambs,” not least when the private refers to her charge as “Lecter.“
Like Clarice Starling, Pvt. Cole is a young woman from a small town who’s challenged to keep her cool as the incarcerated man taunts, intrigues and occasionally humiliates her — most violently here in a scene that informs the viewer of what U.S. military guards apparently call a fecal “cocktail.” (Stewart’s slight resemblance to Foster — first noticed by David Fincher, who cast the two as mother and daughter in “Panic Room” — only adds to the similarity between Starling and Cole.)
Set mostly in the late aughts, the movie begins in 2001 with TV news images of the Twin Towers spewing smoke, followed by the brisk apprehension of three Middle Eastern men, one of whom is Ali. The first reel of “Camp X-Ray” amounts to Sattler’s most gripping filmmaking by far, as it also includes the startling sight of Stewart looking stern and beaten down as Cole, who arrives to work on a Gitmo cell block eight years after 9/11. Alas, the early promise of an aptly intense look at U.S. detention center realities gradually gives way to something a good deal gentler — and a lot less plausible.
An avid reader of both the Quran and the Harry Potter books (all but the last one, anyway), Ali brilliantly manages to get Cole talking, taking her aback with his commentary on the library materials she distributes to inmates. That the Gitmo guards have withheld the final Potter volume from circulation gives Cole a rather predictable choice to make, while allowing Sattler to portray a rather more tolerable cruelty than any informed American citizen is likely to have heard about before.
“Camp X-Ray” is most commendable for believably depicting the U.S. military from a female officer’s point of view, particularly as Cole gets mistreated by a macho male corporal (Lane Garrison) and dares to fight the invisible war by filing a report with the commanding officer (John Carroll Lynch). So, too, the film treats its characters, guards and inmates alike, with clear compassion, although, as a terror-war movie, its preoccupation with the heartwarming exception to the rule too often turns bold American drama into standard operating procedure.
The two leads are excellent and play off each other deftly. Acting almost exclusively with his bearded face as seen through the cell window, Maadi (“A Separation”) calibrates precisely the character’s mix of humor, anger, despair and endurance. In a turn that will surprise and impress those who know her only from the “Twilight” films, Stewart is riveting, especially in the final scenes, where Sattler reverses the camera’s perspective so that Cole is the one viewed through the window, appearing as a sort of prisoner herself.
Editing of the nearly two-hour film could be much tighter, particularly in the midsection. James Laxton’s widescreen cinematography effectively communicates tension in both open and confined spaces. Other tech credits are sharp, with the exception of a bumpy sound mix.
Stewart’s latest role, and her first in the lead since those terribly popular vamp movies, is her most ambitious one yet. In Camp X-Ray, she plays Amy Cole, a newly enlisted guard at Guantanamo Bay detention center. She’s a bit of a mystery, this Amy. We don’t know where she hails from, and are only given brief biographical snapshots, from a Skype chat with her disturbingly upbeat mother, who mentions the man she’s left back home to go all America on everyone’s asses, to a brief sauced-up encounter with her immediate superior, Cpl. Randy (Lane Garrison), whose aggressive face-sucking causes her to storm out in a huff. Amy is, it seems, a lost young woman who’s been indoctrinated into this “patriotic” role (“I wanted to do something important,” she’ll later reveal). She meticulously de-glams, forcing her flowing brown hair into a tight bun. The uniform, and this newfangled authoritative role, gives her a sense of purpose.The Slanted:
The film opens with a shot lingering on the World Trade Center up in smoke. We’re in a nondescript Muslim country, and the 9/11 attacks are being broadcast on Arab television. A man is seen handling a bunch of cell phones on a table before going to a sun-lit room to pray. Suddenly, a hood is shoved over his head. Extraordinary rendition. He’s being shipped, in an orange jumpsuit with a black hood over his head and a headset muffing his ears, to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It’s a beautifully shot sequence, the harsh orange uniforms juxtaposed with the shimmering blue water. When the hood is removed, the man’s (Peyman Moaadi) face appears beaten to a pulp. He’s placed inside of tiny steel cage outdoors, along with several other shocked men.
Eight years later, Private Cole arrives at Gitmo.
“Make no mistake about it, this is a war zone,” says Randy, who further instructs his new batch of guards to only refer to the imprisoned as “detainees,” since they aren’t subject to the by-laws of the Geneva Convention.
On her first day, the go-getting Cole volunteers to join an IRF, or Internal Reaction Force—a group of four guards who don riot gear in order to discipline a combative detainee. Cole is initially put off by the brute display of force employed to restrain just one man, but during the fracas, the detainee elbows her in the face. She kicks him in the stomach in retaliation as he lies restrained on the ground. Later, we see the detainee strapped to a chair and locked in a room. His strident screams can be heard on the other side of the wall.
Cole is given day-duty, which consists of delivering books to the detainees through their cell doors. Many of the inmates, who are almost entirely Muslim, won’t look her in the eye.
“These guys just don’t like girls,” says the narrow-minded Randy. “It’s some Arab thing.”
One inmate that does is Ali Amir (Moaadi), otherwise referred to as “471.” He’s a self-described university graduate who reads Emily Dickinson. He tries to engage Cole in conversation, demanding the final book in the Harry Potter series.
“Imagine, two years I’m asking you to give me this book,” he says of The Deathly Hallows.
“Cut the Hannibal Lecter shit,” she replies, in an apparent tip of the cap to her Panic Room co-star. “Just keep it down.”
So, he responds by throwing a cup of shit at her. Cole is, once again, seeing red. As punishment, her superiors, led by Col. Drummond (excellent character actor John Carroll Lynch), order Ali to be placed on the “Frequent-Flyer Program,” whereby he’s shuttled from one cell to another every two hours as a form of sleep deprivation. It’s her first real taste of the inhumanity of this place. The detainees then stage a five-day hunger strike, demanding an elliptical machine for the prison yard (which is granted).
Later on, an understanding is struck between Cole and Ali—he calls her “Blondie,” and she calls him “Ali”—and the two discuss a number of issues through his cell door as he makes his daily rounds, ranging from literature to their respective backgrounds, and how they ended up at this godforsaken place. Randy catches wind of their “special relationship”—or conversing with the detainees and treating them like humans—and punishes Cole, whom he still has a vendetta against for turning down his advances, and Ali by having her monitor him while he showers.
“Are you a soldier, or a female soldier?” Randy asks her.
After the episode, Cole takes action against Randy, accusing him of an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) violation. The higher-ups side with Randy, and Cole assumes the role of pariah among the guards. She’s given a taste of what the prisoners face daily—the sense of isolation—and it rattles her.
“It’s not as black and white as they said it was going to be,” she complains to a fellow guard.
Camp X-Ray suffers from bouts of clumsy, tone-deaf writing—in particular the scenes of Ali complaining about the facility having all but the final Potter book. It comes off as slightly comical, when it should be far, far from it. The same goes for the elliptical machine hunger strike, which also comes off as tonally deficient, to say the least. Perhaps Sattler was taken by the story that hit the news a few years ago about a 48-year-old terror suspect who collapsed and died at Gitmo after using an elliptical.
In addition to the hunger strike, many of the scenes are lazily conceived, including the one where the asshole corporal gets a little too rough with Cole in a bathroom (who didn’t see that coming?), or scenes where Cole interacts with her only “friend” at the base, a guard named Rico who emits an incessant string of vacuous statements (“These detainees are crazy!”).
But, by the end of Camp X-Ray, you’re won over by Stewart’s layered turn as Cole, and Moaadi’s as the defiant Ali. It’s a role perfectly suited to her strengths—vulnerability and hidden courage—and few young actresses, with the exception of Jennifer Lawrence, can hold a close-up like Stewart. If this is evidence of what’s in store for us from a post-Twilight Stewart, which will also include an upcoming project with acclaimed French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, then her future is looking pretty bright.
Going into Sundance, Kristen Stewart’s upcoming drama on Guantanamo Bay named ‘Camp X-Ray’ was a film on almost everyone’s list. The screening did incredibly well at Sundance, with many viewers offering up a standing ovation when the film came to an end.THR:
This isn’t Stewart’s first time at Sundance, in 2010 she attended for the premiere of “The Runaways,” but her film “Camp X-Ray” is looking like it will be one of the star’s best ever performances. The screening was held earlier this afternoon (Friday) at the lovely Eccles Theater in Park City, Utah.
The film of course was shot nowhere near the actual location, but set design was astonishingly well done.
Stewart, in the past, has been criticized for her somewhat cold-approach to acting, but here its a perfect for this character. It adds another layer of bubbling inner-conflict to the soldier, who more often than not is more statuesque than a regular person would be. It’s refreshing to see Stewart in a role that fits her acting a little better, and she should be very exceed to see the film’s release.
Writer-director Peter Sattler’s riveting first feature, Camp X-Ray, leaves aside the controversy surrounding Guantanamo Bay to focus instead on a personal drama of human connection and compassion, deftly drawn out of the mundane day-to-day of cellblock life. In essence a two-hander, it balances a powerfully internalized performance from Kristen Stewart, delivering perhaps her best screen work to date as an inexperienced military guard, against an equally compelling characterization from Payman Maadi as the long-term detainee who pierces her shell. Its psychological complexity and rich emotional rewards should ensure this expertly crafted if overlong film a significant audience.The Salt Lake Tribune:
Sattler signals his storytelling confidence from the outset with the taut pre-title sequence. An Arab-language television newscast shows the familiar image of smoke billowing from the Twin Towers, while a Middle-Eastern man prepares to leave his dingy apartment. As he pauses to pray, law enforcement agents burst into the room, slipping a sack over his head and removing him on a journey that – in quick cuts of starkly framed images – transports him and others by air, sea and road to a steel-fenced prison facility where they are placed in individual cages. When the sack is removed, we see the beaten, bloodied face of the man we will come to know as Ali (Maadi), or detainee 471.
Jumping ahead eight years, recent recruit Cole (Stewart) arrives, and with other new guards, is given the standard orientation drill. That includes 12-hour patrol rotation and suicide watch every three minutes through glass windows in each single-occupancy cell door. “They will test you, they will best you,” says Ransdell, the division’s cocky tough-guy corporal who will be Cole’s direct superior. He advises the newbies to share no names or information: “Don’t let them get inside your head.”
Anxious to prove her mettle in the mostly male company, Cole volunteers on day one to be part of a four-member Initial Reaction Force team called to subdue a violent jihadist detainee. Her “Welcome to Gitmo” involves being punched in the face and spat on. In these lean establishing scenes, Sattler and editor Geraud Brisson lay a foundation of atmospheric tension, aided by the measured movement and steady gaze of James Laxton’s digital camerawork and by Jess Stroup’s moody melodic score.
The tone begins to shift, however, during a terrific scene invigorated by unexpected humor, in which Cole wheels the book cart along the cellblock corridor and has her first interaction with Ali. Returning a fat volume of Emily Dickinson poems, he sniffs at the other reading material on offer before launching into a rant about the guards withholding the seventh Harry Potter book to drive him crazy. In this and subsequent exchanges he needles Cole – sometimes just toying with her, sometimes getting aggressive or downright nasty – while she endeavors to remain impassive.
Attempting to adapt to the military mindset, Cole participates in beer blasts and fishing trips. She tries to swallow her moral misgivings when she feels Ali is being inhumanly punished for a transgression in which she was affected. But when Ransdell hits on her and she has second thoughts about consenting, her acceptance in the company is threatened. Observing her talking with Ali in the exercise yard, the corporal uses his power to humiliate both guard and detainee.
Cole’s decision to report Ransdell for conduct violation backfires in another intensely played scene. She is interviewed by the commanding officer (John Carroll Lynch), who makes his feelings clear concerning his views on reporting against a fellow officer and also his own resentment at being assigned to Gitmo.
At a fraction under two hours, the film could benefit from minor tightening, particularly of some midsection slackening. But the continuing evolution of Cole’s cautious friendship with Ali is observed with emotional integrity and poignancy, depicting two intelligent people in contrasting states of confinement, each of them seeking contact. The dramatic stakes are elevated in a highly suspenseful climactic scene during which both Cole and Ali reveal more about themselves in a few minutes than they have throughout the entire movie.
“You and me are at war,” Ali says to her at one point. But while the detainee’s innocence as a terrorism suspect is clearly inferred, one of the strengths of Sattler’s screenplay is his refusal to make this a straightforward drama about enemies, injustice or dehumanizing persecution. He makes it about empathy, and in doing so broadens the intimate story to find thematic universality.
Sattler’s grasp of character is exceptional, as is his guidance of the actors, suggesting distinct personalities among Cole’s macho fellow guards generally with just a line or two. But the pulse of this enhanced chamber piece, much of which obviously takes place in claustrophobic interiors, is the unlikely bond of Cole and Ali.
Best known for his fine work as the embattled husband in Iranian foreign-language Oscar winner A Separation, Maadi makes Ali a proud, angry man, as dismissive of his fellow inmates’ hostility as he is of the U.S. military. His bitterness when he strips Cole of her delusions about herself and what she has learned is formidable. But so too is his shattering fragility when he ponders his future.
Ever since the Twilight backlash began, people have questioned whether Stewart is merely a sullen screen queen or a real actor. She puts that argument to rest here, playing a tough, taciturn character driven by an inarticulate urge “to do something important,” but steadily awakened by unpredictable reality. It’s a fiercely contained performance, conveying raw personal insights even when Cole outwardly remains clenched in discomfort. There’s not a moment Stewart’s onscreen here where she isn’t completely transfixing.
*** (three stars)HitFix:
Once you get past the obvious physical miscasting of the petite Kristen Stewart as a Guantanamo Bay MP, writer-director Peter Sattler’s drama "Camp X-Ray" plays out as a thoughtful story of two people caught in a bad situation. Stewart plays Pfc. Amy Cole, assigned to Gitmo in 2009, and getting accustomed to the daily routine of tending to the detainees who have been locked up since 2001. Though she’s warned not to get conversational with the detainees, she becomes intrigued with one, Alim (Payman Maadi, from "A Separation"), whose long record of outbursts belies an erudite soul who does sudoku puzzles and reads the Harry Potter books. Sattler uses the byplay between Amy and Alim to illustrate the gulf between two cultures, and the strong performances by Stewart and Maadi highlight the difference between what we think we know about "the other" and how they really are.
-- Sean P. Means
Kristen Stewart's involvement will no doubt bring a certain amount of attention to Peter Sattler's debut feature film, "Camp X-Ray," which is probably the best use she could make of the stardom she seemed so uncomfortable with in the wake of the massive success of the "Twilight" series.Vanity Fair:
That discomfort, evident in pretty much any interview or red carpet she's ever done, is one of the her assets as a performer, and in the right role, it can be a very compelling thing. She stars as Cole, a young soldier stationed as a guard at Guantanamo Bay eight years after the events of 9/11. The movie unfolds in a very deliberate, experiential way. It actually opens with the smoking World Trade Center on TV. We see that we're in a hotel room. There's a man with several cell phones praying to Mecca. In mid-prayer, he is grabbed, a bag pulled over his head, and then we see a series of images of various people being transferred to Guantanamo. Our last glimpse of him is huddled in a cage, face bloodied and bruised, with armed soldiers all around.
Eight years later, once Cole starts her tour at Gitmo, we catch up with Ali (Payman Maadi), who is still being detained. The film paints a portrait of the daily life of both the soldiers who are stationed there and the detainees (it is pointed out early on that they are never to be referred to as "prisoners" because of the Geneva Conventions), and perhaps the strongest thing Sattler does is try to maintain a neutral eye as he looks at the way this situation affects both sides.
When I wrote a review of "Lone Survivor" recently, I got some angry reactions from people upset that I didn't like the movie and that I questioned the value of the mission depicted in the film. One of the oddest cognitive disconnects possible is when someone tells you to shut up and keep your opinion to yourself because soldiers are fighting for your freedom. Never mind the fact that stifling an opinion you don't like runs entirely counter to the notion of freedom. What really seems strange to me about that reaction is the idea that someone genuinely believes that my personal freedom is impacted one way or another by what happened to a handful of SEALs on a mountain in Afghanistan, or the notion that same freedom depends on the actions of soldiers in a military prison in Cuba. Whether Sattler wants his film to be political or not, it is, simply by virtue of the ideas it addresses. While I understand the hole that our government dug for itself with the detainees, I don't understand the utter lack of forward motion regarding what we're supposed to do with these people. At what point do we admit that our security theater has been unsuccessful, and how do we even begin to address the mistakes we've made regarding some of these people?
Slowly, a rapport develops between Cole and Ali, and both Stewart and Maadi do excellent work in the film. Maadi captures the rage and the helplessness and the struggle to maintain some semblance of sanity when locked in an insane situation with no end in sight. Stewart manages to etch a very empathetic portrait of a young woman who isn't completely comfortable with what she's being asked to do, and the obvious ambivalence she has towards her hometown that she escaped and the life she's signed up for make her the perfect guide for us through what is a very complicated moral landscape. Sattler wisely never tries to portray Ali as a complete innocent. The opening scenes with him are just quick enough, full of small details that are hard to sort out, that it's hard not to think that he was involved in something. But what? And when there's no trial and no push to learn anything from the people being detained, what's the point? For a country that spends so much time talking about the importance of freedom, we seem perfectly content to deny that to people over vague possible wrongdoing, and happy to have those people out of sight where we don't have to think about it.
On the bus after the film, one guy was loudly complaining that the film only bothered to humanize one of the detainees, but I think that's actually sort of canny on Sattler's part. The more of the detainees he introduces and the more he tries to paint full pictures of each of them, the less time he has to do so. Instead, by focusing on Cole and Ali, he's doing his best to let them stand as representatives for both sides, and in their human interaction, we can see the entire dynamic of Guantanamo Bay writ large. There's a moment early on where Cole and Ali talk about the books on the small library cart that she's tasked with rolling around for the prisoners, and while it's both absurdly funny and completely mundane, it says a lot about both of them. Cole resists listening to anything Ali is saying beyond a surface level, because it is easier to treat him as a faceless number than it is to acknowledge that he is a human being locked in confinement for eight years without any sort of due process, and Ali is so focused on his own outrage that he doesn't see how dangerous it is for any guard to deal with him on a personal level.
Little by little, though, there are shifts in perception and moments of understanding and by the end of the film, there is something real that happens between them. There's no giant dramatic impossible conclusion built into the film by Sattler. He knows that this situation will keep rolling on for the foreseeable future, and that no one soldier and no one detainee will change that. But his film dares to suggest that the only true chance there is for any solution exists when we see each other as something more than labels and surfaces, an idea that evidently still terrifies many people on both sides of the equation.
Technical support is strong for Sattler on the film, and special note must be made of the work by Richard Wright, the film's production designer. He's done a great job of creating a Guantanamo Bay that feels real and functional instead of a movie set. The film is carefully shot, with a fine eye for detail, by James Laxton, and Jess Stroup's score offers fine emotional shading without hammering anything. The rest of the cast is also very good, with Lane Garrison in fine form as Corporal Ransdell, the Texas-bred roughneck who Cole answers to directly. I really like the way his character's written so he never tips into easy caricature, and John Carroll Lynch is equally good as Col. Drummond, the C.O. of the base. The film paints a frustrating picture of what it must be like to serve in the modern military in a bureaucratic position, but instead of casting the military as villains or heroes, it simply tries to capture the contradictions that drive most of their daily behaviors. There is a very deliberate pace to the film that may be intentional, but it still feels like it takes a while for the story to find its focus, which could be an issue for many viewers.
"Camp X-Ray" is going to be a hard commercial sell, but the film has a delicate human heart, and it is ultimately rewarding. I think it's a strong indication of what Stewart can do with the right material, and it makes a case for Maadi as one of the most interesting character actors working right now. Solid, small, and sincere, "Camp X-Ray" offers an important perspective to a difficult conversation.
You likely have strong opinion on Kristen Stewart's acting abilities. The Twilight movies turned you way on or way off. Well, throw that perception out the window. In her new movie Camp X-Ray, Stewart plays a Guantanamo Bay guard who befriends an inmate. You read that correctly. While the movie takes a deliberately apolitical stance and clinical approach to depicting the malaise of Gitmo life, Stewart's brand of introverted, lip-biting naturalism adds a necessary warmth to the movie. Like her character, who retreats from life in Florida to whatever the army may provide, Camp X-Ray is Stewart shedding a skin and allowing herself to be tapped for talent. Director Peter Sattler finds a real person in Stewart, enveloping her in a reality that's more nurturing to her personality than Snow White fantasy lands. She wears her camouflage with a stone cold intensity, slowly breaking down when she opens up to a detainee (played by A Separation's Peyman Moaadi). The movie doesn't dig too far under the surface, but Stewart is a watchable pawn in the prison's mechanics. If you've written her off, realize you've under-appreciated her all this time.Buzzfeed:
To say Kristen Stewart is a reluctant celebrity would be a laughable understatement. Now shed of the Twilight movies and their accompanying publicity campaigns, she seems determined to become the actress she would have been if Bella hadn’t come into her life. And in Peter Sattler’s new film Camp X-Ray, which had its high-profile (thanks to its star) premiere at Sundance on Friday, Stewart plays, of all things, a guard at Guantanamo Bay. And she is very good in it.
Stewart’s character, Cole, is a cypher at first: For most of the movie, we don’t know her first name, or anything about her. She comes to Guantanamo clearly determined to overcome any fear she has about being there, and to escape her life. She’s angry, stone-faced, energized by the prisoners’ agitations, and wanting to belong among her fellow military comrades. Lane Garrison, who is starting to make a career comeback after his imprisonment for vehicular homicide several years ago, plays Cole’s boss, a leeringly fratty corporal who hates the prisoners (or detainees, as they’re called to avoid abiding by the Geneva Conventions). There is one other female character in the movie, who’s more of a party girl, and we never hear her speak; the two women seem to think they have no reason to talk to each other.
The story’s thrust comes from Cole’s back-and-forths with Detainee 471 — played by Payman Maadi, who is both sinister and beguiling — who tells her his name is Ali. He is handsome, smart, and a good conversationalist; but he also throws shit at Cole. I suspect you will be hearing about Maadi and this role. Let’s hope the film industry can make way for him, and that he doesn’t always have to play a terrorist.
Or a possible terrorist. As we know from the real world, it’s unclear what the current incarcerations at Guantanamo have gotten us — and we also know that President Obama broke his promise to close the prison because no one can figure out what to do with the men inside. That thread of frustration and hopelessness runs through Camp X-Ray, which takes place nine years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
There’s a Harry Potter metaphor that runs through the film — about Snape — that symbolizes the Sundance movie’s powerful emotional impact and its symmetrically constructed narrative. But it’s also indicative of Camp X-Ray’s tendency to overreach sometimes. Ali begins his interactions with Cole by demanding the seventh and last book in the Harry Potter series; he says he knows it exists, never gets to read it, and needs to know whether Snape is a good guy or a bad guy. It’s the kind of framing that’s designed to pay off in a play-like screenplay like Sattler’s. And it does.
As Camp X-Ray’s story unfolds, and Cole begins to identify with and like Ali, the movie relies on what’s become Stewart’s signature awkwardness. And by the film’s end, Cole has transformed. If that’s Stewart’s goal as well, Camp X-Ray is an excellent start.