Film Review – Camp X-Ray
Camp X-Ray tells the story of a precarious and interesting relationship between Cole and Ali. Cole (Kristen Stewart) is in the Army and starts a tour as a guard at Guantanamo Bay, where the government holds accused terrorists. Ali (Peyman Moaadi, A Separation) is a detainee. The film begins with Ali being taken from his apartment shortly after 9/11. The only evidence of any wrong-doing on his part is the multiple cell phones on his kitchen table. Flash-forward eight years, Cole arrives at Guantanamo to start her year commitment to working there as a glorified prison guard.
Ali is a talkative guy and takes to Cole quickly, nicknaming her “Blondie.” Their first meeting revolves around the book cart and Ali’s desperation to read the last Harry Potter book. He supposes the Army is not letting him know if Snape is good or bad as a form of punishment. Any developing relationship between the two is set back to zero when Ali throws liquid feces on her.
Cole arrives with something to prove. Kristen Stewart shows a simultaneous vulnerability and strength in Cole, considering she is both female and small in stature. She has a tough exterior, but does not whole heartedly like what is being done to the detainees. She is surrounded by men and must one up each and every one of them to measure up. This can be seen on her first day when she volunteers to go in with other guards and physically restrain a detainee. She gets hit in the face by the guy as well as being spit in the face. Stewart puts up a wall for Cole, one that is slowly broken down by Ali to a triumphant end.
Stewart was a great choice for Cole. She has once again proven her acting prowess. Some may disagree with that last sentence, but she has readily proven herself. Independent films seem to be where she can retreat to focus on a complex character.
Stewart is pitted against Moaadi’s Ali. Mooadi portrays him as a little bit wacky and funny, trying to find his way to rattle and antagonize Cole. He is also looking for a forbidden relationship, someone to connect to in his small, secluded cell. He is smart, vulnerable, depressed, and cunning and has a healthy Harry Potter obsession. Cole is able to find humanity in him, not the evil terrorist.
The film’s sets are simple, but at the same time complex considering where they are set. These are not simply U.S. prisoners, but people who have found themselves in an isolated situation with no means of recourse. Is this film set in any sort of true resemblance to the real Guantanamo Bay? Are these really the situations we put accused terrorists in? There is a larger, moral discussion surrounding this film, but it is not the central focus. Films about real situations like war, 9/11, or how our soldiers return home call into question how moral is the fictionalizing of a very real and traumatic event. On the other hand, setting Camp X-Ray in a U.S. prison may not have been as effective or as controversial.
Camp X-Ray is a study of two characters, and they have to go through trials and tribulations to find an understanding in each another. Due to the film’s setting, I was very skeptical that this would be a film worth seeing. I thought this might just be another film angling to make their view heard on the Guantanamo Bay subject. If you remove the larger issue, it is a film about two characters trying to find their way through a harrowing environment and find each other while traveling through it. The triumphant end to Camp X-Ray is the culmination of Cole and Ali’s friendship.