VOD film review: Camp X-Ray
James R | On 17, Jan 2016
Director: Peter Sattler
Cast: Kristen Stewart
Watch Camp X-Ray online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Kristen Stewart is the most underrated actress working in cinema today. The young star won fans around the world when she took the part of leading lady Bella Swan in the Twilight saga, but drew an equal number of haters, who dismissed her acting as nothing more than biting her lip and blinking a lot.
But Stewart is the kind of actress who excels when not talking: she can convey so much with her face or posture that she doesn’t need to speak. That helped her transform into Joan Jett in The Runaways, or, years ago, bring a sense of physical peril to David Fincher’s Panic Room. Jennifer Lawrence has stolen hearts, thunder and awards alike through her exuberant screen presence in recent years, but Stewart is more akin to Jodie Foster (who aptly played her mum in Panic Room), an actress who specialises in introspective performances. She mumbles, yes, but there’s method in her mumbling.
That’s never been so well demonstrated than in Camp X-Ray. Peter Sattler’s drama sees Stewart play a young woman who leaves her home town to make a difference to the world. How? By becoming a guard at Guantanamo Bay.
It’s a place we rarely see on screen, for obvious reasons, but the depiction of life in the camp is disturbingly plausible – and harrowingly mundane. Stewart’s recruited soldier clenches her way through the daily routine, as she’s trained not to call the inmates “prisoners”, because that would give them human rights, and never to refer to them by name.
Inevitably, she begins to interact with one of the inmates (Payman Maadi), who complains the library is missing the latest Harry Potter book – and finds herself on the wrong side of a butch colleague. If the disapproving boss and overpowering male are stereotypical, though, there’s something to be said for Camp X-Ray’s portrayal of a military life from a female perspective.
Maadi, meanwhile, is nuanced enough to stop the #notallprisoners cliche ringing false; even comparisons between him and Professor Snape, and how they are both morally ambiguous villains, don’t feel too on-the-nose. That stems less from the script, which is written by first-timer Sattler, and more from his rapport with Stewart, which forges a convincing bond across the bars. Together, the performers gradually wear down each other’s exteriors; the sight of Stewart’s trademark stoic facade crumbling is genuinely moving.
Sattler keeps the scale small, which only emphasises the familiar narrative conventions and leaves you wishing the film opened up to examine Guantanamo in more detail, but if Camp X-Ray doesn’t always succeed as an entry in the post 9/11 movie canon, as a showcase for Kristen Stewart, it’s a triumph. This underrated actress has rarely been better.