Sundance 2014: “Camp X-Ray” – Review by MovieManMenzel

I was lucky enough to attend the World Premiere screening of the latest Kristen Stewart film Camp X-Ray. Before coming to the festival, I always tend to read about the films premiering and this one in particular was generating a lot of online chatter. Truth be told, Camp X-Ray sounded like it was going to kick some major ass and be the perfect film to showcase Kristen Stewart’s talent now that the notorious Twilight Saga is over.  Needless to say, I was pumped for the film, but did it live up to the hype and my expectations? Keep on reading to find out.

Camp X-Ray stars Kristen Stewart as Amy Cole, a solider who joins the army and gets sent over to Guantanamo Bay during the Bush Administration. Once she arrives, Cole gets assigned the duty of handing out books to the detainees. It is during her daily routine where Cole slowly friends with a detainee named Ali (Peyman Moaadi). It isn’t long before  Ali makes Cole question whether or not these detainees are actually guilty for 9/11 or are they wrongfully accused?

Kristen Stewart is one of those actresses that people either hate or love. I happen to be on the latter half of that equation. I personally feel that Kristen Stewart is really underrated as an actress because all people ever talk about when you hear the name Kristen Stewart or Kstew as the cool kids say, is Bella from Twilight. I personally feel the same way about Kristen Stewart that I feel about Miles Teller and that is that they both should stay far away from studio films and just do independent films. It seems with independent projects actors are actually challenged and as a result showcase how much potential they actually have. Stewart is hands down, the core reason to watch Camp X-Ray. As Amy Cole, Stewart explores a new level of her acting and her performance here is even better than some of her best work to date in films like Welcome to The Rileys and The Runaways.  Stewart’s performance is emotionally charged and really showcases how a woman would feel and act if they were in a place like Guantanamo Bay.

Along with Stewart, you have Peyman Moaadi playing Ali. It is their relationship that drives the film. Ali is a very complex character as he plays “good cop, bad cop” in the film. The film does a very good job of showing the dark side of his character as well as the good side. The constant conversation between Cole and Ali is really engaging, even if it doesn’t go as deep as it should. However, it is the conversations and emotional connection that draws us as viewers into the film. Both the performances feel genuine and real, while the film’s storyline struggles to show us the events that took place at Guantanamo without being bias, which writer/director  made a point to mention at the while introducing the film.

I think the “non-bias” is what really hurt this film from being something spectacular. The story didn’t take a stance on what it wanted to say but instead went with the idea that what happened at Guantanamo Bay is rather complicated and cannot be explained. The story never gets to the meat and potatoes, but instead leaves us with just bread on the table. The film needed to take a stance on the topic and make a statement more than it did. It needed to dive deeper into the issues that were brought up rather than just glancing over them. There is one scene in particular where Cole reports her commanding officer for breaking Standard Operating Procedure. The scene never went anywhere and left the audience with the answer of “it is what it is.” I just felt the film showcased a lot of things that went out but because it didn’t want to pick a side, it just left everything without any answers.

I must also point out that the film is a very slow burn and as previously stated doesn’t really go anywhere in terms of adding anything new to what we already know. The film opens up with footage of 9/11, which is probably the only real way you can start a film like this off, but something about it just doesn’t feel fresh. I think thats the biggest problem of all with the film is that it just doesn’t feel relevant at all. It seems like something that should have been made years ago when this was a hot button issue but nowadays no one really cares about this stuff outside film festival audiences and hardcore liberals who still are trying to blame the economy on George Bush.

All in All, I will still recommend Camp X-Ray for the two lead performances and a decent debut for writer/director Peter Sattler. While the film does have it’s flaws, Stewart and Moaadi carry the film and make it worth watching especially when they get real emotional or manipulative with their characters. It is definitely a film that isn’t for everyone, but if you are someone who still wants to take a stab at Guantanamo Bay, well I would say this is a decent effort.

MovieManMenzel final rating for Camp X-Ray is a 7 out of 10.

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