Camp X-Ray Movie Review
Despite having a title that sounds like some second rate, clothing optional, horror movie, CAMP X-RAY is a surprisingly touching drama revealing some genuine struggles and ethical dilemmas focussing in on a small aspect of the current U.S. warfare.
A young soldier hoping to make a difference gets assigned to Guantanamo Bay guarding “detainees”. The detainees are called detainees because legally they are not allowed to be captured prisoners. Yet there they sit, restrained in a small cell, given limited food and chaperoned showers. Most of the detainees are hostile jihadists, however, one man in particular doesn’t fit the mold of the extreme villain that we usually associate with our foe. Blurring the lines between right and wrong in the laws of war, the soldier strikes up an unlikely friendship with whom she is told is the enemy.
As Pvt. Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart) learns, she is in a bit of a kunundrum when facing her superior officer or the actions that she feels are unethical. Forging the most unlikely bond with an eight year long detainee, Ali (Peyman Moaadi), she finds the support and friendship from the person she is supposed to hate. Likewise, Ali finds a companion opposite from his fellow inmates. The Harry Potter books are used within the story as a nice parallel for their bond, not always knowing whether someone is good or bad. In a bit of a comic relief moment, Ali asks whether Snape is good or bad as he has never read the final Harry Potter book in their small library. He believes this to be another form of punishment only carrying all but the last book. Unfortunately for him, he’s asking the only American who has no idea what the Harry Potter books are.
Peyman Moaadi gave a riveting performance in 2011’s Academy Award winning Best Foreign Film, A SEPARATION. He steps up his game again as the glue holding this fragile material together. Bringing a real connection through this interesting relationship, it’s tough not to be captivated by Ali’s character whenever he is on screen. There are two people involved in this odd pairing and I would be remissed if I didn’t mention her. To be honest, Kristen Stewart has a bad stigma in my mind as a poor actress in a silly franchise (TWILIGHT series). So when I see her name attached to anything, I immediately groan a little. Usually meeting my low expectations, I was surprised to find Miss Stewart beginning to win me over. I’m happy to say once I got past the initial distraction, I forgot about my usual annoyances and was genuinely engaged in her character.
First time writer/director Peter Sattler has spent most of his time as a graphic designer in films such as WALK THE LINE, BLACK SNAKE MOAN and STAR TREK. I look forward to his future work as Sattler seems to have an instant grasp on characters and their environment. Peering in on the detainees through a tiny door window, the focal point wisely stays mostly with the guards point of view. This choice makes for some interesting camera work and sets the proper tone that gives the audience a first hand experience that they could possibly relate to as a young new soldier.
Confined to mostly the hall outside a few cell blocks, CAMP X-RAY exceeds in a small scale setting. Whenever the story reaches outside the small area, the struggles dealing with Pvt. Cole’s superior officer, while true, loses a bit of the focus that makes the film great. While the movie never becomes too preachy, keeping some possible political agendas at bay, it does walk the line. When watching CAMP X-RAY it is important to keep the isolated story in perspective. The hardships that our brave men and women fighting for our country face contain a lot more difficulties and blurred lines that expand to a larger scale of human life. CAMP X-RAY may not go down as one of the great films in its genre, but it does attempt to enlighten, giving a fresh and interesting perspective with characters that learn and change, and for that, it is worthy of some respect.