Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language and brief Nude Images
Directed by: Peter Sattler
Written by: Peter Sattler
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Peyman Moaadi, Julia Duffy, John Carroll Lynch, Lane Garrison & Joseph Julian Soria
CAMP X-RAY has both controversy and potential going for it at the same time. The notorious Kristen Stewart headlines this unique drama, but there’s also a meaty and important topic being tackled. The events of 9/11 will forever remained etched in America’s memories. I can distinctly remember watching it all take place on the morning before my birthday in 2001. I didn’t fully realize the impact that attack had until later on that day (I was still in elementary school at the time), but the sense of hopelessness that hit then still haunts my memories thinking back on that fateful day in history. Guantanamo Bay is a definitely a touchy issue that resulted out of the Twin Towers. CAMP X-RAY attempts to tell an emotional story around that detainee center and the troubling moral gray area that comes with it.
Amy Cole has been assigned to guard a block at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Being a female officer already results in a couple of issues with her fellow privates, but Cole doesn’t expect the moral ambiguity that comes with her new position. Things aren’t as black and white as she was told and thus begins an unusual friendship with Ali, an inmate who claims to be innocent and detained for over 8 years. As Amy’s sympathies begin to go towards Ali (he definitely doesn’t seem like the terrorist type), she is ostracized by her fellow officers. Cole must choose between doing what she believes is right or blindly following orders given to her.
CAMP X-RAY unflinchingly portrays the inhumane treatment of detainees at Guantanamo (to call them prisoners would grant them more rights) as well as opens up the gray areas to explore in such a place. The setting is bleak, grim, and cold. This is how Guantanamo probably looks, though I’d be surprised to find the film was actually shot there (highly unlikely). Besides the quality production values and a heavy topic that’s sure to spark debate, the characters are solid. Kristen Stewart has become infamous for one facial expression, monotone delivery, and frequently biting her bottom lip while looking pensive. Though she doesn’t completely shake that reputation here (it actually creeps its way into an otherwise powerful exchange), these mannerisms actually suit the character in this story. As Ali, relative newcomer Peyman Moaadi shines. He’s the best performer here and really sells his character as someone who you like (even though he might be guilty).
The biggest flaws in CAMP X-RAY would be the sometimes glacial pacing and an unwarranted subplot. A couple of stretches could have been cut out altogether for a tighter film. There are scenes that wind up having little to no point and don’t necessarily further things along. Some might argue that’s to give the viewer a taste of the slow repetition that both the detainees and guards face at Guantanamo, but I should never be bored during a movie. That’s a cardinal sin of cinema. There’s also a subplot about Cole being a female soldier and how that becomes an issue to a couple of her superiors on occasion. I’m glad they didn’t go as far as they could have with it, though one scene seemed to play out like the script was going to milk this topic for all it was worth, but it was still unwarranted. The movie should have stuck to the main controversial problem at hand and not throw an unrelated problem (sexism in the military) into the mix. Luckily, it was a minor subplot that didn’t take up a significant amount of screen time.
CAMP X-RAY occasionally lags in its pacing at and tries address too many things at once, but works as a dramatic tale between a troubled soldier faced with morally questionable areas and a prisoner who just wants a friend. The story excels in little acts of kindness being a saving grace to an otherwise harsh environment. This is especially seen in the final minutes (arguably the best moment in the whole film). CAMP X-RAY doesn’t offer any quick solutions or easy answers in solving Guantanamo Bay or terrorism. There’s also sure to be a whole lot of ignorance from both sides that say “America is the devil.” or “All of those prisoners are 100% terrorists because they’re Muslim.” I liked that the film just treated itself as a story of friendship that happens to take place in a troubled setting. The controversial issues are sure to debated between viewers, but after watching this quality movie. CAMP X-RAY is damned good and well worth a recommendation.