“I never agreed to follow your rules. If I follow your rules it means that I’m agreeing that you have the rights to give me rules, but you don’t.”
Peter Sattler has just made a name for himself after this pretty impressive debut as a writer-director. His screenplay never feels manipulative and he simply tells a minimalist story without being political about it. The film hit home for me because there has been a lot of political discussion in Uruguay as to wether or not the President should’ve accepted the transfer of six Guantanamo Bay prisoners to our country. These prisoners had been discharged in 2010, but no country was willing to receive them. After watching this film, I think we made the right humanitarian decision. Sattler never intends to portray these detainees as either guilty or innocent. We aren’t informed about the detainees’ past, but it rather focuses on a unique relationship between one of the prisoners and a guard. It would have been easier to turn this into a political film, but not everything is black and white and Sattler intelligently turns this into a humanitarian story about two people with different backgrounds who find a connection while at the prison camp. There are several parallel scenes where we see the detainee locked in his cell and the guard in her small room kind of like reflecting the fact that they are both prisoners and victims of their circumstance. This isn’t a political film nor a military bashing one as some people claim; it is an authentic character driven drama that will make you question certain issues.
In order for a film like this to succeed you need to have engaging performances from your cast, and this was the case for Camp X-Ray. I’ve never doubted Kristen Stewart’s ability as an actress. She’s given solid performances throughout her career, but unfortunately when given a poor script there is nothing she can do to improve it. She proved she has more than one facial expression in this year’s Still Alice, and here she gets more screen time to prove her talent. She is convincing as the guard, and her chemistry with the prisoner is the most engaging element of this film. The film also has a subplot revolving on how she is abused by some of the men in power, but the documentary The Invisible War handles this issue in a much better way. Having seen the documentary, I identified with how poorly she was treated, but for audiences who haven’t been exposed to the documentary they may not make much sense out of this subplot. But it is clearly an important issue with women in the military and how many times their complaints are met with hatred and often ignored. Kristen Stewart’s performance was solid, but the film entirely belongs to Peyman Moaadi who delivers a great performance as the detainee Ali. I knew his face was familiar, but only when I looked him up in the IMDB did I realize he was the actor from A Separation. He is outstanding in this film and his character is the most engaging of the film. It works thanks to the fantastic chemistry the two have together because the rest of the characters are completely ignored. We don’t get much depth from the rest of detainees nor the other military officials, with the exception of Lane Garrison who is solid as one of the officials who often abuses his position of power. Overall, this is a solid film that centers on a unique relationship between two people who aren’t as different as one would expect.