Camp X-Ray Review

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By: Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

There are days in someone’s lifetime where, if you’re asked where you were when a certain event happened, you’ll be able to tell, in very clear detail, where you were and what was going on. For some, it was when JFK was assassinated or when the Challenger space shuttle exploded upon launch. But more recently, the question is, “Where were you when you heard about the attacks on 9/11?” That day changed the United States and the way of the world. And much has occurred since then. In Peter Sattler’s directorial debut, Camp X-Ray, we take a look inside Guantanamo Bay.

Private Amy Cole is a young woman from a small town in Florida, having joined the military to better serve her country. She’s been assigned to Guantanamo Bay, where she works 12 hour shifts during the day, keeping watch over detainees (they aren’t called ‘prisoners’ as prisoners would be under the Geneva Convention) confined to their cells. She offers the detainees books to read daily, with only detainee Ali Amir (Peyman Moaadi), a man who has been imprisoned for eight years, wanting reading material. Those working with detainees are told not to talk to them, but Ali wants conversation. He loves reading but doesn’t understand why they won’t allow him to read the last Harry Potter novel. Over time, Amy (who Ali calls Blondie since she won’t give her actual name) and Ali develop a friendship, as she learns more and more about who he is, where he is from, and sees the damage that the detainees have inflicted upon them. And Amy begins to question who the real monsters are: these men who are locked up (many who happen to be innocent) or the captors holding them in?

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Camp X-Ray is a drama about human nature, looking at the relationship of individuals and how our life experiences, and how those in positions of authority, guide our views and beliefs. The inhumane acts forced upon detainees in Guantanamo Bay are well documented, and this is touched upon in Camp X-Ray. But what the film looks at is the aftermath of such treatment and how we process what has happened. One soldier refers to the detainees as those responsible for 9/11, but Amy corrects him, saying that the people responsible for 9/11 all died in the attacks. Then there’s the fact that these detainees, particularly Ali, have been locked up for eight years in a solitary cell. Was he a part of Al-Qaeda? He says he was living in Germany and was told by another soldier that he was innocent, so why keep him there? But they were taken and detained as being members of a jihadist group. Can they ever really go back to their old lives and be able to live normally? Much like an animal kept in captivity at a zoo, they can’t be released back into the wild because they won’t be able to survive on their own. Their futures have already been determined for them.

Camp X-Ray was done on a one million dollar budget, so performances need to be above average for this to be a success. The real story focuses on the growing relationship between Kristen Stewart’s character and Peyman Moaadi’s character. Now, I’ve never been a personal fan of Stewart, feeling I see the same moody, one-note character in each film she is involved with, but this time around, she plays more like Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs (and even looks like her a little). She’s a small town girl thrown into a situation bigger than anything she’s ever known. She’s asked to leave her humanity at the door and to follow orders she doesn’t agree with. But how do we, as humans, find it in ourselves to treat people we do not know as inferior life forms? To treat them worse than we would treat most living things? Stewart brings that internal conflict to the surface with her performance, showing a person who joined a fight with good intentions, struggling to justify preconceived notions in light of the reality presented to her. If you were locked in a cage for eight years, how would you act? Moaadi, on the other hand, is brilliant in his portrayal as a man wanting for the simple things in life: a book to read, a conversation to share – things that make us feel normal. And yet these simple things are kept from him and all other detainees. Is it unfair for someone to be upset when they are denied some of the more basic things in life? And how long can a person cling on to hope, knowing their future is already set in stone? Both of these actors are wonderful in their portrayals and deserve the utmost credit.

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Camp X-Ray is a deep and thought-provoking film that really makes us further question the treatment of detainees held in Guantanamo Bay and whether what has been done is humane. Sattler puts the film in the hands of the actors and allows the performances to tell the story, often with long takes of dialogue. He brings the audience into the isolation that is Guantanamo Bay, experienced from not only the detainees but also the soldiers stationed there. Sattler uses the characters to remind us that everyone involved, whether innocent or guilty, are still human beings, just like you and I, and should be treated as such.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


    One Comment

  1. RonOctober 20th, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Stewart was fantastic

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