Take a Drink: for each military activity
Take a Drink: whenever Kristin Stewart looks tired
Do a Shot: each time a prisoner is treated poorly
Do a Shot: for each generic side character
Take a Drink: whenever Cole is messed with by the prisoners or her peers
By: Matt Conway (Three Beers) –
Aside from obvious candidates like Mel Gibson and Shia LaBeouf, it seems like Kristin Stewart is one of the most hated actors working in Hollywood. Most of this stems from her starring role in The Twilight Saga films, in which she played a monotone bore whose love dilemma was nothing short of dull. Not only that, but Stewart was also in hot water for having an affair with Rupert Sanders, who directed her in Snow White and the Huntsmen.
Personally, I am still a believer in Stewart, as she has thrown her hat into quite a few interesting projects. She has taken a good range of projects, from her charming bit in the comedy Adventureland to more dramatic roles like in the Joan Jett biopic The Runaways. Stewart has shown quite a bit of skill as an actress, with her cold persona being great for some quite interesting characters. Stewarts’ latest drama Camp X-Ray continues to show her talents, with a surprisingly genuine drama despite a few flaws.
Camp X-Ray follows Private Cole, who is assigned to be a guard in Guantanamo Boy. She begins to become under fire though, as she befriends a prisoner who has been there for over eight years.
As I mentioned above, Kristin Stewart continues to shine here. Even compared to the Twilight series, this is by and large Stewart’s most icy performance, with her playing a very calculated and contained character. This is to be expected as she is playing a solider in a very tough position. Stewart is able to bring a lot of skill to this performance, instead of just being an angst-ridden character. Her quiter moments make her more lively moments even more upbeat.
Also shinning is Peyman Moaadi, who previously shinned in the Oscar-winning A Separation. Moaadi is fantastic, displaying the pure torture of being locked into solitary under the rule of people in very small, and subtle ways. He also injects a lot of life into his role, trying to find enjoyment in the small aspects of his life as he begins to connect with Cole. Mooadi just in a few small roles has shown his great talent, and I hope he can have a successful career.
The true highlight of Camp X-Ray is the connection between Cole and Mooadi’s Ali. Both actors have great chemistry together, and each scene they share has a great deal of charm and heart to it. For both characters, the connection that the two have makes a great deal of sense, as Stewart and Mooadi are seen as outspoken outcasts among their peers. Their pure bond is able to create some of the film’s best moments, including an ending that had me tear up.
After working in the industry as a graphic designer, Peter Sattler gets his first chance to direct here, and gives a great effort. The film as a whole looks beautiful, as Sattler teamed with his cinematographer get some impactful shots. Sattler does a fantastic job building an atmosphere throughout, with there being a real sense of dread in the solitary prison.
This must be a passion project for Sattler, as he also wrote the screenplay. One of the major aspects of said script aside from the great character development of the leads is the focus on their bond rather than forcing a political agenda. It could have been very easy for this film to begin ranting about the unjust ways of how the government treats its prisoners, but the film veers away from that, which was very much a pleasant surprise.
Where the script suffers, though, is its first half, which in general feels like the lesser of two halves. While the second half of the film mainly focuses on the relationship between Cole and Ali, the first half essentially shows Cole getting her feet wet in this new prison environment. There are quite a few strong moments here, such as when Cole and other soldiers breach a prisoner’s cell, but quite a few moments feel very repetitious. Too many scenes of Cole being harassed by the prisoners and her not fitting in with her peers just feel repetitive after awhile.
Sattler’s script also fails massively at developing any interesting characters outside of Cole and Ali. All of the side characters here could have been a nice contrast to Cole and Ali, but instead are the same contrast. All of the soldiers are incredibly cold and amoral about what they are doing and all of the prisoners just scream and yell swears without having anything else interesting to say.
I can not say enough about how this error in not developing side characters plagues the film. The side characters depict the ignorant stereotypes that people would associate with both groups, and does so for no particular reason. This film really could have shined in showing an array of contrast between each soldier and terrorist, but it seems Sattler’s script instead settles on putting its focus on other areas.
Camp X-Ray, despite being plagued by an uneven script, is an overall engaging and emotionally potent drama. Both Stewart and and Moaadi shine through, with their great chemistry creating the true heart and soul of this film. Hopefully people look past Stewart’s involvement and give this one a chance.