Overview: A small town female soldier struggles in her position as a guard at Guantanamo Bay. 2014; IFC Films; 117 Minutes.
What the Film Isn’t: It’s tough to say whether it is discipline or over-precaution that prevents young Writer/Director Peter Sattler from diving headfirst into the dangerous thematic waters provided by a story that focuses on a female soldier stationed at Guantanamo. For the most part, Sattler keeps his hands clean of overt politicizing and only peripherally glances at the inherent sexism in the military structure and the equally evident problematic cross-gender politics within the military structure. A more focused look at any of these elements within the storyline might have proven to be ruinous, divisive, or revelatory. To both his credit and my curiosity, Sattler marches upright and in stride, eyes locked on the real strength of the story and the film.
What the Film Boasts: There are two rather remarkable performances driving Camp X-Ray. It is to her credit that frail Kristen Stewart overperforms in the role PFC Amy Cole, carrying the movie even when she fails to exhibit the slightest bit of callous grit or military bulk. Her famous restless bottom lip and perpetually confused chin prove to be functional acting tools here. Her quiet expressiveness makes up a large portion of the otherwise quiet story, always her face adding layers to the narrative events. Equally and for a different approach, Payman Maadi provides structural support to the film as detainee Ali Amir, whose incessant verbal cage rattling proves to be the perfect music to allow these two performers to dance. The best part of the movie are the conversations that occur between Amy and Ali, at least as they occur in the first and second acts.
Ultimately: While not un-admirable, Camp X-Ray‘s efforts to highlight the shared and similar humanness of the characters on both sides of the cell wall is nothing groundbreaking or new and, in fact, because of a sharp veering turn in the final scenes that abandons the quiet observational and realist early strength of the story, it comes across as a bit hokey. There isn’t much accomplished here that couldn’t be accomplished by a standard prison and/or military setting. However, surprisingly, Kristen Stewart makes this a film worth watching. I’ve read and heard growing opinion that the former Twilight starlet is transitioning into and earning more serious and impressive roles and performances. Her turn in Camp X-Ray certainly shows the marking of someone whose talent can serve as her new undeniable résumé.