Camp X-Ray Review [Sundance 2014]

Review of: Camp X-Ray
Emily Estep

Reviewed by:
On January 25, 2014
Last modified:January 26, 2014


Camp X-Ray

camp x-ray

Kristen Stewart continues her attempts to shrug her mainstream Twilight fame with Camp X-Ray, a film in which she likely assumed she would be able to prove herself as a serious actor. However, while Stewart’s performance isn’t exactly Oscar-worthy, it’s the film itself that lets her down in the end. Despite her best efforts and the talents of A Separation’s Peyman Moaadi, this character-driven effort is one of the noteworthy disappointments of Sundance 2014.

The film, helmed by first time director and screenwriter Peter Sattler, follows Stewart as Private Amy Cole, a guard at Guantanamo Bay. Cole quickly sets herself apart as an upstanding soldier but fails to follow one unwritten rule: Don’t let the detainees get under your skin. It’s not long before she finds herself in a friendship with a man named Ali (Moaadi), who has been detained for eight years. A translator, Ali spends his time convincing Cole to speak with him, and they slowly bond. Their friendship causes Cole to rethink her position as a guard and what it means to “defend freedom.”

Admittedly, Stewart’s performance in Camp X-Ray is some of her best work yet, but that’s not to say she is astounding here. In fact, her performance feels almost inadequate when compared to Moaadi’s. The actor absolutely sells every line he’s given and really shines in his role. Supporting actors Lane Garrison and Joseph Julian Soria, as guards Randy and Rico, perform well here too, though the characters themselves add little to the film.

While Randy is essentially a plot device who helps to develop Cole’s character through aggressive sexual advances, Rico seems to exist almost entirely to explain off-screen plot details to Cole over lunch. Few characters are given much development outside of Cole and Ali, which would be acceptable if the two of them weren’t so quickly and conveniently pigeonholed through references to Silence of the Lambs and Harry Potter.

Camp X-Ray mostly shies away from making any sort of political statement and focuses on the relationship between Cole and Ali. It’s a decent story about human interaction, but the film decidedly rejects the opportunity to take a position on Gitmo, outside of an expository line or two about the difference between a “detainee” and a “prisoner.” Guantanamo, by the way, is a word that only gets mentioned a few times, and the film is devoid of any mention of Guantanamo-events grounded in reality.

Disappointingly, Camp X-Ray also avoids delving too deeply into an investigation of women in the military. Though the limited screen time shared between Cole and Randy provides some of the script’s most thought-provoking material, I would rather watch a just-okay drama on sexual harassment in the military than a just-okay drama about Guantanamo that isn’t really about Guantanamo. Besides, plenty of the detainee-related material in Camp X-Ray can be found better investigated in films like Zero Dark Thirty.

Camp X-Ray does more or less succeed in holding your attention as simply a story about a prisoner and a guard. Moaadi captivates as Ali, doing his best to sell a detainee whose reasons for being locked up are hardly ever even approached in the script. For her part, Stewart does exceed the expectations of her naysayers, although it’s still difficult not to compare her to better performances from actresses in similar roles.

While it does have its moments, there’s a lot of wasted potential here, as Camp X-Ray falls flat when attempting to approach larger issues of human rights. Instead, it relies on pop culture references and cheesy metaphors to speak for its characters.

Camp X-Ray

Comments (8)

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  1. Amysays:

    I would respect your review if you didn’t advertise your review with comments about “lip-biting” and open it up with your snarky comments about Kristen Stewart’s attempts at being a serious actor. Kristen has been at Sundance 6 times before this with “serious” films and they’ve all garnered her critical praise. When has she not been a serious actor? It seems like you were predisposed to saying she did a bad job before you saw the movie. Did it hurt you to say that she did well? I’m glad there are critics out there from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter that disagreed with you. Thank God for some fairness.
    By the way, you never quite said what she didn’t do well. All you seemed to be able to say is that she did well, but somebody else could’ve done better, which is a completely ridiculous way to review a performance. If your critique of her is that she bit her lip a lot, then I don’t have any respect for it.

    1. goldushapplesays:

      As equally as I am annoyed by movie critics/bloggers that take cheap shots at Ms. Stewart’s acting, or anything that is an easy jab in world in the entertainment business, I am equally annoyed at people who seem incapable of defending an actor without coming across as fanatics.

    2. Emily Estepsays:

      I didn’t advertise my review with comments about “lip-biting.” I made a joke about it on my personal Twitter account that you apparently stumbled across.

      I actually went into the film with high expectations. I have no problem with Kristen Stewart and can honestly say that I didn’t give her a second thought before I walked into the theater. You, on the other hand, seem to be the one predisposed to saying she did a good job before you’ve seen the movie.

      I respect other critics who enjoyed the film, but I also respectfully disagree with their thoughts on the movie. It was difficult for me to describe what she did well in the movie, because her character was pretty bland and her performance was pretty bland.

      There are much more strongly worded reviews about this film and about her performance online, if you’re looking for someone to pick a bone with.

      1. Seannie5says:

        “and can honestly say that I didn’t give her a second thought before I walked into the theatre”
        Hmm … I don’t really believe that. The tired internet friendly “lipbiting” line sort of ruins that. To put in your tagline on twitter really lessens the respect i have for your review. I have no problem with you not liking a film or a performance, but I wonder if any other actress has her every movement noted and judged as harshly as Stewart. It does feel like a lot of critics go in there looking for something to bitch at her for. I think they feel like they have a duty to please the K Stewart naysayers. Even some of the critics who acknowledged that she did a fine job did so begrudgingly – you could tell it killed them. Even the way you used the word “Admittedly” to say that you think this was Kristen’s best work.
        It would be great if film reviewers could just be professional and refrain from taking a cheap shot. Considering what her character was going through and where she was located, I don’t think lip biting is an out of place thing to do…..

  2. Felicitysays:

    ”Kristen Stewart continues her attempts to shrug her mainstream Twilight fame with Camp X-Ray, a film in which she likely assumed she would be able to prove herself as a serious actor. ”

    WOW!!! You really lost me there.Just reading these lines,i didn’t feel like to continue reading your… let’s say ”review”. That’s not a review that’s your own personal speculation. ”continues her attempts”? That’s her work,not attempts…you mean that every post Twilight movie for her is going to be an attempt? Are you serious? She’s an actress,she does movies.Period.”shrug her mainstream Twilight fame..” What??? Believe me,people who watch movies and attend festivals like Sundance,knew Kristen Stewart.Obviously you didn’t,and you aren’t familiar with her work,besides Twiight.And Stewart is very proud of Twilight.

    ”a film in which she likely assumed..” Lol,i think you’re the one likely assuming here,you don’t know her,unless of course you are her therapist…and last ” she would be able to prove herself as a serious actor. ” What’s your definition of a serious actor huh? One that wasn’t a star of a billion dollar franchise? Again,you trully aren’t familiar with her work or interviews.

    And take this friendly piece of advice,next time you start writing a review,
    1.Don’t presume to know the actors attempts,or from what they are driven to select their next project.
    2.Don’t assume their choices are always for them to be taken as serious actors.
    3.Be familiar with their other projects,also previous films that led them to festivals like Cannes, Sundance,Rome festival etc.
    4.Watch their interviews,and the way they talk about their work their hopes and professional ethics.

    Bottom line,if you want to be taken as a serious and worth reading film critic either you like a film(or an actor’s performance) or not,you don’t start your review like the one above.You sound like a gossip tab.

    Looking forward to your… attempts to prove yourself as a serious critic!

    1. Emily Estepsays:

      Your comment takes one line that I wrote LARGELY out of context and fails to recognize that I said in the very next sentence that it’s the film that lets down Kristen Stewart and not vice-versa.

      Are you a Kristen Stewart fan, by any chance?

  3. Dane Bramagesays:

    Why does this film have to have a distinct political message? I am sick of politically injected films and television. Burned out.

    1. Seannie5says:

      I agree. The director has firmly said that he didn’t want it to be a political film.

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