Movie Review - Camp X-Ray

Kristen Stewart stars as Private First Class Amy Cole, an army soldier who has been assigned to Guantanamo Bay. The film follows when she first arrives in 2009 and as she learns the prison's policies. She also gets to know one of the prisoners named Ali, played by Peyman Moaadi (A Separation and About Elly).

Actually, one thing the movie makes clear in the beginning is that the men being held at Guantanamo are not to be called "prisoners." They're supposed to be called "detainees." It's a legal distinction that's emblematic of the debate surrounding the military camp.

Written and directed by Peter Sattler, a graphic designer for films as varied as All the Real Girls to Walk the Line to Star Trek, makes his directorial debut. The opening shot is of the World Trade Center on September 11. The movie then cuts to a Muslim man being captured, not on a battle field or with any evidence of him being a terrorist. The shot is of him sitting at a desk, probably at home, and having a bag put over his head and taken by soldiers.

Many detainees probably are terrorists, sympathizers or have evidence pointing to such. There's also detainees who are deemed guilty by association or by sheer racism and who definitely should not be there or there for as long. This is something we learned in the Oscar-winning film Taxi to the Dark Side (2007). This movie here leads us to believe that Ali is such a person who should not be there or there for as long as he is.

We're led to believe this for two likely reasons. One is to dispel the myth or stereotype about the people in Guantanamo Bay and who are Muslim in general. The other is to shine a bit of a light on what might be considered inhumane treatment of the detainees like sleep deprivation.

This movie doesn't go to the places as the recent Boys of Abu Ghraib, but there are points where lines are crossed. However, the chief complaint is Ali repeating that the guards are "assholes." What mostly is seen is the guards not talking to him or not getting him the last Harry Potter book. Being in solitary confinement is torturous enough, but it's hard to be super sympathetic of these guys and of Ali, as he mainly comes off as whiny.

The film might also be a condemnation or slight criticism of the military. In one scene, Cole talks to another prison guard who tells her, "There ain't no why in army." Yet, Cole starts to question why like why is Ali there and if he should. She's reminded that as a soldier, she's not supposed to challenge orders or her superiors. She's simply supposed to follow them. Because she's a woman in the army, the film can't help but comment on that as well. It's not overt, but subtle, just the right amount and level.

Nonetheless, both Stewart and Moaadi give great performances and develop a great rapport. Being Iranian-American and given his skin color, Moaadi will probably be limited in the roles he gets, but honestly he needs to be in a lot of things if not everything because he's that good, and coming off Still Alice and Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart is proving herself to be an actress with which to be reckoned if not certainly recognized. She made a mark on Hollywood as a teenager in Panic Room (2002) and even in indie films like Undertow (2004), but she's growing into her place as an adult actor gracefully and skillfully.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language and brief nude images.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 57 mins.


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