Director: Peter Sattler
Writer: Peter Sattler
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Peyman Moaadi, Lane Garrison, John Carroll Lynch
Release date: October 17th, 2014
Distributor: IFC Films
Running time: 117 minutes
Best part: Stewart and Moaadi.
Worst part: The irritating supporting characters.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, the United States of America, considered to be the most stable country on Earth, did everything it could to respond. Sadly, what happened next crafted a chain of events the world is still unable to break. Along with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and 2003 overhaul of Iraq, America struck the Middle-Eastern world with indescribable force. In addition, as highlighted in independent drama Camp X-Ray, one particular issue reshaped the world’s stance on the West.
Guantanamo Bay, created specifically to house persons of interest, was a torture chamber shadowed by the US Government. With several horrific cases making the news, something needed to be done. Thankfully, this place is no longer a problem. Why am I examining this topic? Well, because everyone deserves to gain a thorough understanding of our world. Camp X-Ray, despite only scraping the tip of the iceberg, is a fine example of cinema’s raw power. Ambitiously, the movie depicts one Army private’s brief stint in this nightmarish facility. Despite the questionable premise, it’s the people involved that push viewers in the right direction. In the opening two scenes, we get a brief glimpse into the events of 9/11 and Amir Ali(Peyman Moaadi)’s day-to-day existence. Ali, a lonely and humble simpleton, doesn’t seem like much of a threat. However, whilst in Salat (Islamic ritualistic prayer), he is abducted from Germany and moved halfway around the world to Guantanamo. Treated like an animal, he spends eight years in confinement. We then meet our other protagonist, Private First Class Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart).
Thanks to a subdued marketing campaign and well-earned award contention, Camp X-Ray is one of 2014’s most alluring indie releases. Refusing to boast its lead actor’s stardom, the movie aims for film festival crowds and strictly adult audiences. In fact, I doubt Twilight fans would be willing to watch K-Stew be kicked, spat on, or covered in excrement by vicious detainees. Interestingly enough, the title only refers to one part of the compound. Whilst watching this stirring drama, many viewers’ jaws will drop uncontrollably. Throughout the 117-minute run-time, the “I can’t believe this actually happened!” thought became lodged in my skull like a rogue piece of shrapnel. The narrative, crafting a slice-of-life account, drags us through each stage of Guantanamo’s gruelling processes. Graphic designer turned writer/director Peter Sattler, despite the fictional story, gathers enough research to make each frame feel genuine. Following Cole’s potent story, from her discomforting initiation to tender bond with Ali and more, Settler’s purposeful style illuminates our lead characters’ words and actions. In most sequences, Sattler’s less-is-more approach cranks the tension up to 11. Capturing the most mundane parts of Cole’s job, the movie never attempts to manipulate us. Oddly enough, despite the aforementioned faeces incident, Sattler’s succinct screenplay is more about telling than showing. The quieter moments, defined by searing dialogue and charming comedic jabs, cement this prison drama as a muted mix of The Shawshank Redemption and Zero Dark Thirty.
“It’s not as black and white as they said it was going to be.” (PFC Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart), Camp X-Ray).
Despite lacking the aforementioned movies’ prowess, Camp X-Ray delivers many heartfelt moments, cracking lines, and thought-provoking viewpoints. Powered by Sattler’s tell-don’t-show approach, the supporting characters serve to summarise his agenda. In fact, these caricatures’ cruel words and disgraceful actions become overbearing. However, among the existential angst and political jabs, Camp X-Ray‘s central dynamic steadily turns this political-thriller into a fascinating and sweet pseudo-fairytale. As our lead character’s time runs out, varying conflicts and complications play out with maximum effect. Yearning for masculine qualities, our lead warps and twists herself around the system. Afraid of consequences and responsibilities, Cole’s arc delivers an emotionally resonant experience. Beyond Sattler’s profound character development, credit belongs to Stewart for shedding her persona and becoming something else entirely. Ridding herself of the ongoing backlash, this ambitious project illuminates her immense magnetism and range. Utilising her slender figure and distinctive facial features, Stewart adapts to every situation and flourish. Stuck primarily in close up, she and Sattler’s intimate style bolster this meaningful journey. Aiding Stewart throughout, Moaadi – known primarily for breakout Iranian drama, A Separation – is blindingly charismatic as a sorrowful victim hidden deep within hell. Adding comedic hints when required, his bountiful performance elevates this sombre character study.
Despite switching between ever-so-slight Left and Right viewpoints, forcing Camp X-Ray to apologise on behalf of the US Government whilst applauding its stance on terrorism, the end result deserves our immediate attention. Telling a heart-breaking story about the West, Middle-East, and everywhere in between, this prison drama delivers a full-strength assault on the heart, mind, and senses. As a performance piece for one of Hollywood’s most underrated actresses, this is a sure-fire indie-drama highlight.