Dr. Donna Copeland’s
The purpose in making this film is not really clear to me. It’s about a young female soldier Cole (Kristen Stewart) from a small town in the south suddenly thrown into guarding detainees in Guantanamo. Hopefully, the real guards get more orientation and training than this recruit gets, because even though she is instructed not to engage with the detainees at all, one (Peyman Moaadi) named Ali hooks her in. He has a record for being difficult and gives her an initiation (hazing) right away. Clearly, he is an educated man and is desperate to have some human interaction. (Is this film intended to show support for the detainees and point out what is bad at Guantanamo?) Initially, they engage around Harry Potter books, although it’s obvious she has never read any of them, but Ali is an avid fan and eager to read the last of the series.
Naturally, Cole being a woman in the military, it is necessary to show some sexual tension in the film, which takes place in the form of a superior, Ransdell (Lane Garrison), being attracted to her, and when she pushes him away, gets back at her. She is then reprimanded and transferred to night duty, which, of course, gives much more opportunity for her and Ali to converse and bond. (Is this film intended to show that women are too weak to be in the military? The way Cole is portrayed, she does not follow orders for avoiding any engagement with a detainee; whereas her successor, a male, clearly follows the rules.)
What Camp X-Ray ends up showing is that the bond that develops between Cole and Ali ultimately has positive effects on both of them—more so on him than her. At least, there is an indication that he becomes less rebellious. (Is this film intended to show support for the FBI’s traditional method of getting information and cooperation from spies, which is superior to torture, which is what the CIA has been known to do?)
This is Director Peter Sattler’s second film to direct; his background in film has usually been in the art department. I perceive two weaknesses in Camp X-Ray; the first being that the purpose of the film is not made clear. The second is that Kristen Stewart is miscast. She does not comport herself as a woman in the military—particularly at a place like Guantanamo—she appears too fragile and ignores her superiors’ instructions. She usually has a look of mystification on her face. On the other hand, Peyman Moaadi (Ali), the actor in the Iranian film, The Separation, is perfect for his role as a detainee and he gives a plausible portrayal of someone in that facility.
It also appears to me that the film does a pretty good job in giving us a sense of what Guantanamo looks like on a day-to-day basis. I was particularly struck by the guards’ duty of having to pace back and forth for a whole shift, peeking into the detainees’ cells mostly, although they do sometimes deliver food, books, and monitor exercise and hygiene.
A look inside the Guantanamo detention facility
By Donna R. Copeland
There should have been more to a film that presents itself dealing with moral ambiguity than the daily procedural activities Camp X-Ray focuses on. Kristen Stewart (Twilight) brings only one thing to the role of the military corrections officer, and that is her constant nervous expression. If ever cast in a role that didn’t require the face she seems to be frozen in, she would be without any acting ability. Camp X-Ray, from the trailer, appeared to be a controversial story of a female guard coming to terms with the imprisonment of innocent men in Guantanamo Bay. However, this incredibly slow film from sophomore director Peter Sattler misses many opportunities.
Amy Cole (Stewart) wasn’t expecting right and wrong or good and bad to be so blurred while on guard duty at Guantanamo Bay. Through her conversations with inmate Ali (Peyman Moaadi), which are a violation of conduct, she gives into empathy and becomes friendly through the glass. He explains how the guards refuse to give him the final Harry Potter book, and that he is from Germany and not a terrorist. Ali, in GitMo for eight years, is one of the most verbal of the inmates, challenging all the new guards. Amy gets that rude awakening her first week, as he tosses his feces through the meal opening. The more she interacts with Ali, the less she interacts with fellow soldiers.
There was a real lack of engagement with the viewer, I felt. While much of the conversation takes place separated by a door with a tiny window, we only see one actor looking at another. Moaadi (A Separation) delivers a compelling performance for his character's purpose. However, he is nothing more than a cog for the film to play with Amy’s experience and the film is driven by Stewart’s performance. As we are introduced to Amy, one of only two female officers seen throughout the film, she displays every bit the same courage, stamina and fortitude as the male officers, even volunteering to help restrain an inmate on her very first day.
Amy, however, quickly changes and is constantly making the wrong decisions. Although she consistently breaks protocol by having long conversations with Ali, she in turn files an improper conduct report on a fellow officer who forces her to be present during the showers of the male prisoners (there are only male prisoners). Sattler’s script seems to be torn between its message. Is this film supposed to speak out against the existence or practices of the prison? Is the film’s purpose to show how, during the uncertain time period after 9/11, the US detained Arabs that had not committed crimes? When a fellow soldier tells Amy that all the guys locked up were responsible for 9/11, she reminds him that the men responsible for the terrorist attacks died in the planes.
Final Thought – Without daring to take a stance one way or another, the film never has a clear purpose or voice.
By: Dustin Chase