The use of torture and the questionable closing of Guantanamo Bay has divided citizens for years and we’re still finding more and more out every year, it seems. One can only image what it must be like in Guantanamo Bay and this film attempts to give us perspective from both the detainee and the soldier. Your mind and heart will be tested, but you won’t entirely feel resolved in the end. Still, this film does offer up an interesting discussion that will certainly lead to many disagreements.
After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Guantanamo Bay saw a large increase in the number of incarcerated middle-easterners. Taken from all over, these new detainees (not prisoners) were taken and locked up under many questionable circumstances. While some soldiers went off to fight in the Middle East, some were assigned to Guantanamo Bay and that’s when Cole (Kristen Stewart) found herself in one of the most uncomfortable situations of her life. Her assigned duties had her patrolling the cells and making sure that the detainees ate, slept, and didn’t attempt suicide.
Being new to Guantanamo, Cole didn’t knew too much about what lied in store for her. She was told never to talk with the prisoners and reveal any information about herself, because the detainees use that information against them. When Cole brings books to Ali (Peyman Moaadi), the two form an unlikely and odd bond that has them discussing many things over long periods of time. Cole witnesses some of the harsh treatment that the detainees endure and reads about the petty reasons why they are tortured so, but she’s conflicted because she doesn’t entirely know whether or not Ali is truly a terrorist, or not.
Camp X-Ray finds itself re-telling the story of a prisoner and a captor becoming friends, but it does benefit from two great performances from the leading actors. Some things may seem a bit extreme, but there is a lot of authenticity and emotion that went into making this film, evident in how the film progresses and how the cast handles the material.
Kristen Stewart will always be burdened by the Twilight films and much like her then co-star and lover Robert Pattinson, her better, smaller work doesn’t make it into the conversation. Stewart does some sensational dramatic work and I was really impressed by her turn in this film. She has her alliance to the military and her country, but she doesn’t holistically believe in everything that they’re doing. Her gradual progression in her friendship with Moaadi is wonderful and her struggle with enforcing her military regulations makes for some great viewing. Stewart’s subtle smiles and slight laughter are telling of her emotions and it’s the little things that end up having the biggest impact for her and the audience.
Peyman Moaadi turned in a powerful and spectacular performance in 2011’s A Separation and it’s no question that he’s a phenomenal actor, despite having so few films to his credit. Here, he manages to convey a wide-range of emotions, while confined to a tight space that almost closes in on the audience as well. His claustrophobic living and imprisonment has certainly taken a toll on his character and Moaadi crafts a character around the burdens and possible unjustified torture that his character endured. He at first comes off as obnoxious and frustrating, but after spending time with him you realize that he, like the others, are just longing for some type of compassion and friendship. The questioning of his involvement in terrorist activities has you unsure of whether or not to feel bad for him, but either way you can’t help but connect with him on a human level, which is a huge accomplishment on Moaadi’s part.
Morals and ethics are a heavy theme in this film, as Stewart’s character finds herself conflicted with most everything going on at Guantanamo Bay. It doesn’t do her any favors that she’s a female soldier there, as she’s subject to unequal treatment all around, which is also a touched upon issue too. She tries to compensate in some ways to seem tougher, but it’s her soft side that allows her to see past all the irrational thinking that goes into the heads of those who blindly follow and believe whatever they’re told. She formulates her own opinions and it’s almost upsetting to see how differently others think. They form their opinions around the fact that everyone is a terrorist and only wants to blow us all up, despite knowing next-to-nothing about the people they’ve imprisoned.
First-time Writer/Director Peter Sattler presents a strong first-effort, even if that strength is derived from the two leads and not his writing. The only main focus in this film Stewart and Moaadi’s friendship, so the inclusion of unresolved sub-plots just gets in the way of everything. It’s as if Sattler really wanted us to know that Stewart was a girl, because he spends so much time with different scenarios (ie. treatment, involvement, objectified) that ultimately reiterate the fact that she’s one of the few women there. Quicker introductions and longer, separate times spent with Stewart and Moaadi’s characters would have made a huge difference by the time the film ends. There’s a lot of potential in the ending and it’s spike in seriousness, but the final shot is a frustrating one. The big issue doesn’t even feel as big when you get to it.
Camp X-Ray definitely didn’t tie up all of its loose ends, but it’s still a great film that leaves you unsure of what to think, or how to feel. I really can’t stop championing Stewart as a good actress and her performances here is all the reason why I believe that. Peyman Moaadi continues to shine in pivotal roles that ask a lot of him on an emotional level. Together, Stewart and Moaadi make for one of the year’s most moving duos, with many of their interactions tugging quite hard on my heartstrings. This film will bring a lot of things to light for some and for others will be an accurate portrayal of what goes on in Guantanamo Bay. It makes some bold statements and leaves you wondering what the right thing to do is.
Camp X-Ray Trailer