Review: Camp X-Ray

Director: Peter Sattler

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Payman Maadi

Release Date: 9th October 2015 (UK)

Following Twilight, Kristen Stewart has had the apparently insurmountable task of establishing herself as an actress who could plausibly enter awards season. In 2015 she delivered two of her best performances to date; the first in Clouds of Sils Maria and secondly, but perhaps less acclaimed, was her starring role in politically charged drama Camp X-Ray, in which she plays a newbie at Guantanamo Bay and strikes up a friendship with a detainee, played by Payman Maadi.

The relationship between Ali and Cole was the deliberate focal point of a narrative which could have been a much broader critique of US foreign policy, but they judged it right. In Cole you have a female protagonist in a male world, constantly sexualised by her colleagues and demonised by the detainees, unable to find her place between two worlds she doesn’t belong. While Ali is the Muslim man whose background we know very little about, and therefore the justification for his imprisonment is never fully disclosed. The clear theme throughout the movie is the ambiguity of righteousness, as each action is mitigated by an opposite reaction which never entirely victimises any character.

In some ways this down the line approach offers an interesting dyanmic to a story which could easily have thrown scorn on the morality of its setting, but it also failed to peak interest as much as its premise deserved. That said, Stewart and Maadi were a great duo, creating a spark that never progresses, or feels like it should, to anything more than friendship. It was a tricky relationship to get right but it felt believable to watch.

Perhaps the film’s lack of energy stemmed from the absence of any single antagonist. Lane Garrison plays Cole’s commanding officer, but the growing conflict between them doesn’t feel intense enough to warrant what is actually happening. Ransdell is obviously being used to embody the system – all its diligence and all its flaws, but it just wasn’t played out enough to create enough, which ultimately made Cole and Ali’s journeys story feel a little flat.

That said, this was still enthralling to watch at times, with prolonged dialogue and conversational sequences that didn’t bore. You will invest in the characters, you just may not know why, and no doubt some of you will resent not finding out if Ali is actually a terrorist or not. If you connect with the film in the right way, this shouldn’t matter, as Camp X-Ray is not about the specific principle of terrorism but the irony in the enforcement of ideologically-founded principles of justice. It’s a reasonable film that does nothing for awards season, but will probably find a spot among the regularly watched on Netflix.


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