Camp X-Ray

Year: 2014
Production Co: Gotham Group
Director: Peter Sattler
Writer: Peter Sattler
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Peyman Moaadi, John Carroll Lynch

Say what you like about Kristen Stewart, she's used her Twilight clout as a springboard to projects that would stretch any attractive young actress when she could have sunk into the mire of every studio rom-com or brainless thriller.

She plays Cole, a young woman we learn joined the military to escape her small town to see (and maybe change) the world. Instead, she's assigned to the titular army prison base at Guantanamo Bay, and instead of fighting evil in the name of freedom her days involve walking around a prison block peering through the windows of cells to make sure Muslim prisoners have nothing to harm themselves with.

One of them is Ali (Peyman Moaadi), one of thousands rounded up in the wake of 9/11 and thrown in jails around the world without charges laid – as Cole's commander explains early on, they're 'detainees', not 'inmates'. Ali's been there for eight years when Cole meets him in the worst way, tricking her into receiving a 'shit cocktail'.

As she tries to understand and reconcile with what she's got herself in for, the quiet and reserved Cole tries to ingratiate herself with her comrades and belong, but she can't quite cop to base life.

Instead, she goes against her strict instructions and starts talking to Ali more and more. He does so because he's desperate for something to do (the recurring riff about how angry and frustrated he is at the last Harry Potter book not being available from the library is quietly amusing and tragic at the same time).

Cole does so because ironically, she finds the worst ill-treatment and inhumanity outside the prison walls with her peers. After an insightful part of the story that deals with gender relations in the military, she discovers not even the army itself will protect her when the chips are down. Instead, she gradually finds human connection with a man she's been taught to hate.

Writer/director Peter Sattler takes plenty of time revealing both characters, and we learn what drives them at the same pace they learn it about each other. It takes its time, often with short, clipped scenes that advance the story only marginally, but even though it's depicting a boring life it's never itself boring.

The script doesn't give Stewart a whole lot of range, but she plays the buttoned down soldier well. There are few histrionics and only one or two 'actor-y' moments. Increasingly, her talent lies in picking surprising (and surprisingly good) projects that suit her rather than wielding any particularly outstanding performing chops.

There's no deep theme apart from people finding common ground who'd otherwise never even cross, let alone become friends. At it's simplest it could be seen as a rumination on our tendency to seek out human relations when we don't have enough to occupy us, and if you want to get mildly political, it could also be a criticism of the way America treated both a generation of Muslims and the bureaucracy of defending freedom.

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