Sundance Review: Camp X-Ray

Camp X-Ray is a story about a young woman, Amy (portrayed by Kristen Stewart) as she enlists in the military to escape her small town. Leading her to a life as a guard in Guantanamo Bay.

Surrounded by cold walls and a monotonous daily routine interspersed with bursts of activity involving agitated prisoners, Amy slowly develops a relationship with one of the prisoners, Ali Amir (portrayed by Peyman Moaadi). The majority of Amy’s job is walking around the guantanamo cellblock looking in on each prisoner through a slotted window.

These sequences of the film are as impressive as they sound, with slow deliberate shots of the cold rectangular prison floor compiled with 8 prison cells. Prison guards meandering in a circle, peeking their heads into each window. This is a by design attempt to put us into that same mundane state that exists the majority of the time at Guantanamo. When Moaadi’s character, Ali Amir, attempts to strike up conversations with Amy, it appears that he’s going to try manipulate her for some benefit. If you’re thinking ‘Silence of the Lambs’, the filmmaker is way ahead of you as Amy, showing she won’t be pushed around, makes her own literal reference to the film during one brief conversation with Ali.

The film also lightly addresses the daily life amongst the guards within the cold steel walls of Guantanamo, with Late night drinking in a makeshift pub and gatherings in a cafeteria by day barely begin to lift their spirits while they count the days till their tour of duty is over. Not lost on us is the notion that the guards are in their own prison. Amy also has to deal with a sexually aggressive male guard, yet only briefly, as this point of the story is quickly glossed over. Overall only a limited number of the potential storylines, regarding military service, are touched upon.

Director Peter Sattler, the compelling Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi take center stage and provide us with a glimpse into the complexities of human interaction between two people from opposite sides of an international conflict. The political debates surrounding Guantanamo were intentionally not addressed by Sattler throughout the film. Peter Sattler originally wanted this film at its core to be about a relationship between two people in an unlikely setting. Any direct references to Guantanamo are found in the painstaking details Sattler researched to provide as realistic an experience as possible of the life inside that elusive world of Guantanamo.

I first had reservations about seeing Kristen Stewart portraying a military guard, usually outside her usual acting roles. Although, she proved me and the Sundance Film Festival critics wrong as she is immensely convincing in her role as a small town woman wanting to make something of her life inside the military. Hopefully this role will squash some of her naysayers regarding her previous ‘twilight’ and comedic romance indie roles and open up more challenging portraits for her future productions. Peyman Moaadi also performs great as an accused terrorist, whose innocence remains a lingering question throughout. Moaadi garners our attention while he tries to befriend Kristen Stewart as she patrols by his window day after day. By the end of the film, we learn how connected the relationship is between them.

I feel that during next year’s award season we’ll be at least be talking about Camp X-Ray as a possible contender at the Independent Spirit Awards, similar to this years Academy Award nominated Fruitvale Station which also premiered at Sundance.

– This feature production follows ‘Two people in a room’. Take it or leave it, although be sure to read this review first.

About the Author

Brian Perry is an International Correspondent for TFM.

Posted in Festivals, Movies, Reviews, Sundance Film Festival