Directed by Peter Sattler
A young woman joins the military to be part of something bigger than herself and her small-town roots. Instead, she ends up as a new guard at Guantanamo Bay, where her mission is far from black and white. Surrounded by hostile jihadists and aggressive squadmates, she strikes up an unusual friendship with one of the detainees.
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★★★½ review by Esteban Gonzalez on Letterboxd
“I never agreed to follow your rules. If I follow your rules it means that I’m agreeing that you have the rights to give me rules, but you don’t.”
Peter Sattler has just made a name for himself after this pretty impressive debut as a writer-director. His screenplay never feels manipulative and he simply tells a minimalist story without being political about it. The film hit home for me because there has been a lot of political discussion in Uruguay as to wether or not the President should’ve accepted the transfer of six Guantanamo Bay prisoners to our country. These prisoners had been discharged in 2010, but no country was willing to receive them. After watching this film, I think we made the right humanitarian decision. Sattler never intends to portray these detainees as either guilty or innocent. We aren’t informed about the detainees’ past, but it rather focuses on a unique relationship between one of the prisoners and a guard. It would have been easier to turn this into a political film, but not everything is black and white and Sattler intelligently turns this into a humanitarian story about two people with different backgrounds who find a connection while at the prison camp. There are several parallel scenes where we see the detainee locked in his cell and the guard in her small room kind of like reflecting the fact that they are both prisoners and victims of their circumstance. This isn’t a political film nor a military bashing one as some people claim; it is an authentic character driven drama that will make you question certain issues.
In order for a film like this to succeed you need to have engaging performances from your cast, and this was the case for Camp X-Ray. I’ve never doubted Kristen Stewart’s ability as an actress. She’s given solid performances throughout her career, but unfortunately when given a poor script there is nothing she can do to improve it. She proved she has more than one facial expression in this year’s Still Alice, and here she gets more screen time to prove her talent. She is convincing as the guard, and her chemistry with the prisoner is the most engaging element of this film. The film also has a subplot revolving on how she is abused by some of the men in power, but the documentary The Invisible War handles this issue in a much better way. Having seen the documentary, I identified with how poorly she was treated, but for audiences who haven’t been exposed to the documentary they may not make much sense out of this subplot. But it is clearly an important issue with women in the military and how many times their complaints are met with hatred and often ignored. Kristen Stewart’s performance was solid, but the film entirely belongs to Peyman Moaadi who delivers a great performance as the detainee Ali. I knew his face was familiar, but only when I looked him up in the IMDB did I realize he was the actor from A Separation. He is outstanding in this film and his character is the most engaging of the film. It works thanks to the fantastic chemistry the two have together because the rest of the characters are completely ignored. We don’t get much depth from the rest of detainees nor the other military officials, with the exception of Lane Garrison who is solid as one of the officials who often abuses his position of power. Overall, this is a solid film that centers on a unique relationship between two people who aren’t as different as one would expect.
★★★★½ review by feedingbrett on Letterboxd
Debuting director, Peter Sattler, has highlighted in this film, Camp X-Ray, the division between prisoner and guard in Guantanamo Bay, the isolation and restrictions instilled on the prisoners, depriving them of the fundamentals of actual living, the consequences of such actions lead them to psychological fractures that justifies their agitations and disorientation, factors that its guards are forced to ignore to maintain the standards of their profession and to ensure the safety of its soldiers.
These ideas are far from novel, but it resonates to its audience through an emotionally gripping arc for its characters, Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart) and Ali (Peyman Moaadi), an insight to their intrinsic development without becoming seemingly intrusive or apparent to its audience, at least from a verbal standpoint. Sattler allows the bubble, their relationship, to shrink as it matures and progresses, allowing drama to swallow us whole, and through its excellent construction, it is comforting for it all to drown us; it was executed in such a way that allowed me to forgive the film for its curious holes in the narrative that may appear, especially as it climbs towards the climax and finale, maintaining focus on the sentimental intentions of the displayed gestures rather than cynically judge them for it.
If the film has a message to transmit across, it would be to highlight the need of awareness and empathy towards those prejudiced by the actions of the war, understanding that they are still human regardless of their affiliated race, knowing that prejudice still exists within such a world and that our outlook towards them would be unjustified and agonising, restricting them from the freedom that they deserve, a human right that countries have applied on these people to ensure their own safety. Whenever the war may end, empathy is the road to recovery, to provide them the sense of equality and compassion that is rightfully theirs as a human being, to break down that division that has plagued our society, to be able to trust and to show acceptance once again.
If a flaw could be found in Sattler’s film, it would be in its half-baked perspective of the gender standards and struggles found within the culture of the soldiers; it seems to exist to emotionally push further our protagonist, to add drama in between its more interesting moments, and to identify to the audience a physical villain for them to plant their rage into, a sexist and manipulative guard by the name of Ransdell (Lane Garrison). It is an aspect of the film that felt too obvious for my liking, and at times slipped me away from being immersed in its drama; it is an approach that could have been handled better rather than be completely eradicated from the narrative.
Camp X-Ray is an impressive and contemplative effort by Peter Sattler, who was able to generate wonderful performances from his cast, Stewart and Moaadi demonstrating strong chemistry, allowing their relationship to progress plausibly towards a climactic moment that demands the most from its actors, emotionally and psychologically; leaving me eager on what the filmmaker would deliver next.
★★★½ review by Deckard on Letterboxd
"Do not let them get inside your head."
Well this turned out to be rather nice. It wasn't too overly political or melodramatic at all. It has a Kristen Stewart in the lead, which to some could be seen as iffy, but she really turns in a very good performances in Camp X-Ray. Stewart plays Amy Cole, Army private first class who has just been sent to Guantanamo Bay to be placed as guard. She's completely new to the environment and isn't sure of what to expect, which leads to some events happening to her such as being "cocktailed". But throughout the course of the film she strikes up a friendship with one of the fellow detainees, Ali Amir (Peyman Moaadi).
Camp X-Ray really follows Stewart's character and the layers we see her go through in the film, which I honestly never thought I would ever write about. That's due to those awful Twilight films that she was in, but post-Twilight, she's starting to really shape into a fine, young actress. While I think Pattinson is the far superior actor, there's no telling that if Stewart follows great roles like this, she can start building herself a nice career and eventually have distant from that franchise.
It was a different type of war/military film in which there virtually wasn't any sort of warfare going on at all, which was nice. It settles for a regular drama story, but it's told in a great manner that has great characterization throughout. There's no need for propaganda or biased views, since it's totally unnecessary. It's just about Cole and Ali's friendship that channels throughout the near two hour film in many aspects. Both high's and low's. It's hard to not see Cole's reasons for the friendship, as you can relate, as you can strangely to Ali.
All around, Camp X-Ray turned out to be better than I initially thought it would be. I was actually surprised at how well Kristen Stewart was, as well the overall writing and direction. Very well made film.
"Welcome to Gitmo."
★★★★ review by Michael Vazquez on Letterboxd
Great flick. Strong performances from Stewart & Moaadi, both pull it off well with believable characters. The movie is at his very best when both share the screen. You know, I admire what Kristen Stewart has done post-Twilight, reason why she's terrible in those movies and Snow White is because it's plain and simple the script & characters she was given.
Look at Robert Pattinson, you'd think he would be a one-trick pony after that Twilight. Right? No. Wrong. I took Stewart a little bit seriously after Adventureland and I think she can be a solid actor when it comes to smaller-budget movies. Yes, she still has problems with her acting style (at times hesitant to spill out a line when it looks like she's about to have some kind temper tandrum & occasional one facial expression) but she deserves to get more credit than she gets because of Twilight & Snow White.
I liked this movie, I appreciated it a lot and it was moving at times especially in it's final moments thanks to it's strong acting from both Stewart & Moaadi.
★★★★ review by Bob Hovey on Letterboxd
Films about the military aren't easy to pull off, and one that deals with a sensitive subject like Guantanamo has got to be even tougher. There are so many ways a film like this could go wrong ... bad writing, lousy leads, too many cliches, overly political or patriotic, no character depth, and on and on. Still, Camp X-Ray manages to work, and quite well. It starts provocatively enough when we see a Muslim man getting a hood thrown over his head and dragged out of his home ... then the story jumps ahead eight years. We never find out what he or any of his fellow detainees did or didn't do, whether they are guilty or innocent, the film simply deals with the fact that they are behind bars, and with the fact that their guards hate it about as much as they do.
Camp X-Ray offers a neutral tone with little moralizing, showing us how the prison operates without passing judgement on the process, the policymakers or the young MP's on the ground who are doing their jobs. We're given what seems to be a fairly objective view, and from there we are left to draw our own conclusions.
Probably the film's greatest strength is the effectiveness of Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi in their respective roles as an inexperienced private and the long-time detainee with whom she develops a tenuous friendship. The director uses a lot of close-ups and lets the actors faces tell the story ... not that there isn't a lot of dialog, but that dialog is reinforced by some of the most convincing expressive silences I've seen in a film of this type. These are the kinds of nuances we take for granted in real life in situations we're directly involved with ... but many filmmakers can't or won't spend the time on this sort of thing (and a lot of actors can't pull it off anyway), while many documentary filmmakers can't get these kinds of shots without being too intrusive.
The end result is a film that packs a lot of emotional power without being melodramatic ... it draws you in and keeps you there, with few false notes to remind you that it's just a movie.
Camp X-Ray is getting a lot of recommendations from film buffs as the movie that proves Kristen Stewart's got genuine talent and shouldn't be judged by the Twilight franchise. But there's way more to the film than that.... Peter Sattler's first effort as writer/director is probably one of the best debut films I've seen in a while ... a simple story told in an emotional yet honest way, and one that clearly deserves to be seen.
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