I had no expectations about Camp X Ray, a drama with a bit of romance set against the backdrop of the Guantanamo Bay prison. That’s pretty much all I knew about it and since there are so few movies about this place, I felt compelled to check it out. Mostly because technically this is a prison movie although it offers a different narrative from all the other prison movies we talked about here. It’s very minimalist and quite odd, however, definitely worth checking out. You might even call it a character study with three main characters we’re going to get to know a lot better. Cole, Ali, and the fucking prison and everything that comes with it.
So, first things first, Camp X Ray is not based on a true story but director and writer Peter Sattler went to great lengths to show us a glimpse of what was going on there. He spent a year researching this place even using WikiLeaks documents to get a better understanding of the place. It was fascinating to watch how strange their procedures are and the toll they take both on the prisoners and guards. The camp got its name as it was one of the last temporary camps there with a little army twist at the end. You’ll notice quite a few of them here giving Camp X Ray a sense of authenticity.
This is Kristen Stewart’s first movie after Twilight and it shows. And while I was really hard on her in the past, Kristen proved that she’s a very talented actress over and over again. Here, we will get a bit of that Twilighty biting of the lip and confused looks but nothing too serious. Payman Maadi playing Ali gave one hell of a performance as a man in an impossible situation. He left a much bigger impression on me than her. However, the two of them together had this strange chemistry that elevated their performances.
A new batch of soldiers just arrived at Guantanamo Bay and among them is a young woman eager to prove herself. Her name is Cole and she will quickly learn that this place is nothing like she expected it to be. The same can be said about the people who are kept there, without a trial and in oftentimes horrible conditions. Cole’s main job is to keep them from killing themselves and this is how she’s going to meet Ali.
Camp X Ray humanizes not just the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay but also the soldiers working there. It pulls you into this gray area where you start to question what’s going on. Where you start thinking about morality, guilt and justice. And that’s always a good place and a place to grow. This is one of the main reasons why you should see this movie. Especially since we now know what kind of torture and humiliation of the prisoners went on there. And keep in mind the fact that Guantanamo Bay is still fucking open! Hell, they’re even building a new courthouse there.
I think that The Mauritanian starring Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch is a much better movie than this one. After all, it’s based on a true story and features a much tighter script. However, this distancing approach Sattler chose here enables you to put things into perspective. Finally, Camp X Ray also captured that army vibe that few movies managed to. I can only think of the Jarhead off the top of my head. And again the fingers are pointed upwards, towards the higher-ups in the military and government. And the rest of us have to follow but we can stray a little and that little can mean a world.
Director: Peter Sattler
Writer: Peter Sattler
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Payman Maadi, Lane Garrison, John Carroll Lynch, Marco Khan, Joseph Julian Soria
Fun Facts: Parts of the movie were shot in the abandoned Fred C. Nelles Correctional Facility. People who worked on these scenes, including the director and members of the cast, go so far as to say that the place is haunted.