Camp X-Ray (London Film Festival 2014) Review

Kristen Stewart is out of her depth playing someone out of her depth.

Well, at least Peter Sattler tried. Camp X-Ray was supposed to shine a light on the ugliness in recent history concerning the mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, yet it’ll be best remembered for a Westernised perspective of torture: a prison library that stacks the first six Harry Potter books but not The Deathly Hallows. Although, truth be told, the only word from Sundance was about Kristen Stewart. If you’re not a fan of Stewart’s acting style – look confused, touch face – then I doubt you’ll be swayed by her wooden attempt to play Amy, a wannabe tough Army sent to be a prison guard at Camp X-Ray. With her hair stripped of its gleam, this is another flopped attempt to be taken seriously – just place it on the bargain big with The Cake Eaters and Welcome to the Rileys.

Despite the malapropism, Amy isn’t suited for the army, leaving Stewart to do that thing where she touches her face – this time to nurse a cut. Amy’s only notable relationship is with Ali (Peyman Moaadi), one of the prisoners who calls her “blondie” when she walks past. With a glass pane between them, they have overwritten conversations that I’m sure worked a great deal better in Final Draft software. The confrontations, nearly always shot from Amy’s side of the fence, encircle the unnecessary cruelty of the living conditions. Yet, aside from scarce glimpses of Ali’s desolate cell, the victim is made out to be Amy when she literally has shit flung her direction.

A fine film could have concentrated on the detainees, perhaps highlighting just how they were treated like animals, or how to make it through a single day after eight years without any sign freedom. A glimpsed hunger strike is barely acknowledged in terms of motivation or its ramifications, and it’s clear that Hunger this is not. Strangely, the script is at times more interested in Amy’s stormy relationship with another cadet, than making any observations about America’s reaction post-9/11. It felt like there was more talk of Harry Potter than intelligent discourse.

Sattler’s main point is that US guards and their detainees have more in common than they realised. Amy says, “Yes, sir!” to her superiors, and slumps on her bed as if locked in a cell. Soldiers salute the flag, prisoners pray to Allah. The intercuts bear no subtlety and are, frankly, embarrassing. Same goes for Stewart who becomes a more jarring actor the more she tries, and is out of her depth playing someone who is out of her depth.

’Camp X-Ray’ is playing London Film Festival 2014 as part of the Debate strand. Ticket information can be found here.

Nick Chen

Updated: Sep 25, 2014

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