Camp X-Ray Review – The K-Stew Redemption


Director: Peter Sattler

Writer: Peter Sattler

Stars: Kristen Stewart, Peyman Moaadi, Lane Garrison, John Carroll Lynch


Release date: October 17th, 2014

Distributor: IFC Films 

Country: USA

Running time: 117 minutes


 

 

4/5

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.

Kristen Stewart.

Kristen Stewart.

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).

Peyman Moaadi.

Peyman Moaadi.

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).

Life in Guantanamo Bay.

Life in Guantanamo Bay.

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.

Verdict: Stewart’s I-told-you-so vehicle.

Zero Dark Thirty Review – Ball-busting Bigelow


Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Writer: Mark Boal 

Stars: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong


Release date: December 19th, 2012

Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Universal Pictures, Icon Productions, GAGA

Country: USA

Running time: 157 minutes


 

5/5

Best part: Bigelow’s direction.

Worst part: Some slightly underdeveloped characters.

There has been a vast number of military procedurals since 9/11. Each with their own point to prove, they attain an understandable account of relations between the west and the Middle East. One director unafraid to discuss the War on Terror with a definitive and fiery passion is Kathryn Bigelow. Her latest film, Zero Dark Thirty, is arguably one of the best films of the past decade.

Jessica Chastain.

A big statement for sure, but both her and this film heartily speak to the masses about the past decade’s hottest topic. Zero Dark Thirty dramatises the work of multiple US agencies, all of whom with the same goal. Between 2001 and 2011, Osama bin Laden was at the top of every most wanted list. CIA operative Maya (Jessica Chastain) is brought in to witness the routine of Pakistan’s US Embassy. Aided by fellow CIA officer Dan (Jason Clarke), their brutal interrogations uncover several leads. While searching endlessly for Al-Qaeda members, in particular a courier by the name of ‘Abu Ahmed’, the CIA division overlooking the region must also contend with constant allegations and terrorist attacks. Heading up the operation, Maya launches an all-out assault on bin Laden and Al-Qaeda’s hold on the Middle East. Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have reunited after their best-picture winning effort, The Hurt Locker. Whereas that film centred on one Bomb disposal unit, their new feature examines every aspect of the war against bin Laden. Despite bin Laden’s death in 2011, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq may never satisfyingly end. Zero Dark Thirty has caused severe controversy since its conception. Clashes with CIA and Obama administration officials suggest that this story hits way too close to home. So-called ‘leaked’ information is combined with an in-depth analysis of the war on terror.  

Kyle Chandler & Jason Clarke.

The 2 hour and 37 minute length is vital for this immense story. Boal’s script is a cinematic dramatisation of startling personal accounts. Like a journalist’s presentation of the Middle East, the film’s objectivity allows for many interpretations. Bigelow and Boal smartly recreate certain events without either propagandistic or anti-establishment messages. This expansive story covers 10 years of terrorist acts and events within a shattered bureaucracy. Attacks including 9/11 and the London Bombings are depicted but never sensationalised. The boardroom rules over the battlefield here. The film’s daring examination of pencil-pushers and investigators grounds this intense struggle. Intelligence and surveillance may be vital, but human intuition is even greater. However, the bombings, shoot-outs and assassination attempts will leave anyone sinking in their seats. The film’s best sequence is the night raid by Seal Team Six on Bin Laden’s Compound. Tight, tense and violent; it’s a stunning action set piece devoid of unnecessary ‘Hollywood’ flourishes. Zero Dark Thirty never reverts back to standard action-thriller tropes. It’s subtly divided between cat-and-mouse chase, military procedural and intense thriller. With many post-9/11 military dramas, action and simplistic exposition tell the story. The film’s level of political jargon is about as intensive as a CNN newsroom. Evidence, gathered and shared between Pakistan and Washington D.C., extensively details how technology can create freedom. Yes, it’s refreshing that a Hollywood post-9/11 drama can speak strictly to the current affair-centred viewer, but that concept may be excruciating for everyone else. Films such as The InsiderAll the President’s MenMunich and The Kingdom provide a similar outlook on international political affairs. Zero Dark Thirty has caused controversy due to its graphic torture sequences.

“Can I be honest with you? I am bad fucking news. I’m not your friend. I’m not gonna help you. I’m gonna break you. Any questions?” (Dan (Jason Clarke), Zero Dark Thirty).

The Seal Team Six sequence.

Bigelow, however, never pushes things too far. No one is having appendages chopped off. Instead, heavy metal music is blared for days on end and male prisoners are humiliated in front of female CIA operatives. Despite these atrocities, both the American and Middle Eastern characters are depicted delicately. Bigelow and Boal find, and comment on, the humanistic elements of both sides without sitting on left or right wings. Bigelow is clearly one of Hollywood’s best action-thriller directors. Her tight, kinetic style comes to the forefront of both The Hurt Locker  and Zero Dark Thirty. Boal and Bigelow have expanded The Hurt Locker‘s Middle Eastern setting. The grit of the Middle Eastern desert is important to this harsh docudrama. The verisimilitude establishes a startling world that the American characters struggle to adjust to. Bigelow’s handling of Maya’s story is hauntingly personal. Maya is based on a real-life CIA operative whose name cannot be given for security purposes. Maya’s arc between naive operative and frustrated leader is chilling. She separates the men from the boys whilst living and working in a testosterone fuelled environment (much like Bigelow herself). Maya is courageously determined to capture bin Laden. Pushing papers and tempers around the office, her implausible hunches push her to continue on. The ubiquitous Chastain is remarkable here. Every emotion is etched painfully into her face. She presents her character’s exhaustive journey with a powerfully affecting turn. Charismatic character actors, including Mark Strong, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Kyle Chandler and James Gandolfini, deliver powerful performances in small roles.

Bigelow and Boal have crafted a heart-thumping and intelligent thriller. Crafting the line between bureaucracy, democracy, and chaos, Zero Dark Thirty is an objective and affecting look at the greatest manhunt in history. Thanks to this immaculate cast and crew, this military flick transcends the genre and studio system.

Verdict: An intelligent and captivating military thriller.