Friday, November 14, 2014

A Reel Review: CAMP X-RAY

For the most part, the movies have avoided anything having to do with the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention camp, which was used to hold detainees suspected of terrorism after 9/11. Diving into those surroundings takes boldness and bravery, along with the important task of finding a human story worth telling. Enter CAMP X-RAY. 

Pvt. Cole (Kristen Stewart), is assigned to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp as a guard, and strikes up an unlikely friendship with Ali (Peyman Moadi), one of the detainees. 

CAMP X-RAY doesn’t exactly blaze new ground in military dramas with its plot; a soldier befriending the enemy is nothing new, but in these surroundings it turns into a great idea. This is a world not long after 9/11, when anyone who is even suspected of the lightest link to terrorism is detained with little to no hope for release.  The detestment the soldiers have for the detainees, and vice-versa, is up-front all of the time, not only because they have to keep the enemy alive, but because they hold them responsible for having to live in an ugly place so far from home. Director Peter Sattler spends a lot of time setting up what life is like for the soldiers and the prisoners; lives of monotony, boredom, and great isolation from the rest of the world, and it really doesn’t take long to feel empathy for both sides. 

At the heart of it all is the friendship forged between Cole and Ali. The film smartly avoids any of the old clich├ęs of beauty-and-the-beast or KING KONG and doesn’t get sappy or overdramatic, but instead keeps the dialogue and the relationship on a very grounded and real level. The two characters hate each other for different reasons, but in their isolation they find common ground and it’s a great watch to see that territory explored. With Cole on the outside and Ali in the small cell, CAMP X-RAY is very much in the spirit of Hannibal vs. Clarice and it knows it (one character even mentions the famed film), but never feels like a parody or an outright copy. 

Director Peter Sattler makes it look he’s going to explore themes of war, power, and even sexism…but only seems to go so far. Great questions are raised like a great professor in a classroom, but like a poor class of dumb students, no answers are given nor are they explored fully. It’s shallow storytelling thematically, and it almost makes the film forgettable by the time the credits roll. On top of that, the main narrative often gets sidetracked by a sub-plot concerning Cole and a male soldier in the harassment area, but even this only goes so far; it feels like filler and the issue seems like it gets forgotten about since it never gets resolved. 

There is still a fair amount to enjoy in CAMP X-RAY, and most of that is from two spectacular and stunning performances from its two main actors. Kristen Stewart is surprisingly good; playing the cool and disciplined military soldier with a hint of loneliness perfectly. Peyman Moadi starts his time in the film as a villain but manages to turn himself into a very likeable character. Stewart and Moadi have great chemistry together despite always being separated by an iron door with a small window, and both make the best out of the difficult acting situation. 

The finale doesn’t go for any sort of whopper of an ending neither thematically or emotionally, which has us leaving CAMP X-RAY feeling a little hungry for more. This is worth a visit for great performances and a few good ideas, but it is a few great thoughts short of a repeat visit.


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