Camp X-Ray Review

The Plot

A young American soldier stationed as a guard at Guantanamo Bay finds herself discovering an unlikely and at times reluctant connection with one particular ‘detainee’, throwing into question her view of right and wrong.

The Good

Guantanamo Bay and the questionable ethics behind America’s infamous prison camp for ‘evil doers’ has been the subject of much political soap boxing and geo-political debate. The success of Camp X-Ray is that it doesn’t allow itself to ever be distracted from a simple but compelling human drama by political controversy. The film isn’t driven by any overt political agenda and doesn’t waste time with heavy handed dialogue and sermons. Defying expectations and assumptions, this isn’t a film about American foreign policy or religious extremism. It’s actually a much more simple but poignant examination of incarceration and freedom.

Twilight star Kristen Stewart is a very good fit for the increasingly troubled Pvt Amy Cole. Having long ago perfected a pained but stoic expression, she easily captures the constant unease of her character. Her typically restrained performance matches the claustrophobic surroundings and situation perfectly.

Peyman Moaadi is an absolute revelation as Ali, the detainee who forges an unlikely bond with Stewart’s young soldier. The film wisely avoids making the issue of his guilt or innocence ever feel like a relevant question. He is neither an evil enemy combatant nor a symbolically innocent victim. He is simply a rational man stripped of dignity and at times sanity by 8 years of oppressive confinement. His performance is the true heart of the film and the source of much of its emotional credibility.

Watching the film’s two leads exchanging furtive conversations mostly through a tiny prison window gives the audience an even greater sense of the true claustrophobic reality of this place and these people’s lives. Whether tinged with humour or hatred, their exchanges are consistently honest and intensely intimate. The ultimate affect and the film’s biggest achievement is to give the audience an immersive experience which is somehow both horrific and hopeful.

The Bad

Kristen Stewart divides audience opinions almost as much as Guantanamo Bay divides political opinion. Those unimpressed by her acting talents or media persona will no doubt find plenty of ammunition to criticise her performance as awkward or sullen. However those criticisms perhaps wilfully miss the entire point of this film. Her character deliberately wears a gaunt troubled expression as a permanent piece of armour, against the hatred and oppression which surrounds her, meaning that when a rare smile does break through it actually truly means something.

Those hoping for some kind of an examination of the complex political and military realities that lead to the continued existence of the infamous Gitmo prison may be disappointed that the film doesn’t delve into these issues. However in truth the film gives audience an insight into the human experience of those working and imprisoned inside. Proving a far more persuasive and subtle voice of protest than any number of grandstanding speeches about justice and freedom.

The Ugly Truth

Kristen Stewart continues to establish herself as a credible dramatic talent outside of the assured box office success of the Twilight Saga. Helping Camp X-Ray deliver a compelling insight into one of the most mysterious and controversial places on earth. Though the film leaves audiences to draw their own political and emotional conclusions its impact is undeniable.

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