REVIEW: Camp X-Ray

10 12 2014

Camp X-RayWriter/director Peter Sattler tackles some big topics in “Camp X-Ray,” and I certainly admire his streak of ambition.  A drama set at the high-stakes location of Guantanamo Bay certainly should not settle for anything ordinary, after all.

He explores the effects of callings inmates “detainees” rather than “prisoners,” a system that seems designed to entrench hostilities between captors and captives.  The film also looks at the other major force at the prison, the guards who oversee it, through the eyes of Kristen Stewart’s Cole.  “Camp X-Ray” shows the distinction between being a “soldier” and being a “female soldier,” an unduly additional burden that Cole must shoulder.

Yet Sattler never really puts these issues in service of the plot, which hardly feels strong enough to sustain a two-hour feature.  “Camp X-Ray” feels neither expressly political nor earnestly personal; as a result, it just comes off as rather nondescript.

Sattler does a commendable thing in defining Cole away from her job, where she must check her emotions at the door.  What exactly she is doing in Guantanamo provides an interesting existential dilemma for Stewart to play.  Thankfully, it cannot all boil down to something hopelessly anti-feminist as she expressly states that she is not in the military to hunt down a husband.

For all the scenes of Cole outside the barbed wire, though, “Camp X-Ray” explores her character the most when she converses with a particularly intelligent and loquacious detainee, Ali, played by Payman Maadi (the superb leading man from “A Separation“).  These exchanges are the center of the film, and while they may not significantly advance events or provide dramatic escalation, the cross-cultural chats feel worthwhile just … because.  C+2stars

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