London Film Festival: Camp X-Ray

Directed by Peter Sattler

Starring Kristen Stewart, Payman Maadi and Lane Garrison
Screening at BFI London Film Festival October 9th, 2014

by Joanna Orland

The only way I can review this film on its cinematic and storytelling merit is to temporarily ignore all of the political implications it inevitably connotes.  Camp X-Ray is the story of an unlikely friendship between Guantanamo Bay prison guard Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart) and detainee (Payman Maadi of A Separation). Maadi gives an incredible and powerful performance as detainee Ali Amir, using raw emotion to portray the strife of his character. Kristen Stewart gives an expected one-note performance, but in the case of portraying Amy Cole, the underplaying of the character works perfectly. She becomes believable, empathetic and mesmerizing. The relationship between the two characters unfolds predictably but beautifully in this heart-warming yet gritty drama.

The political implications are hard to completely avoid and will anger parties on both sides of the argument.  It is no wonder that this film has found itself in the Debate strand of the 58th BFI London Film Festival.  Parallels are drawn between the victimization of a female soldier institutionalized in a military setting of sexism and questionable moral obligations, and the victimization of a Guantanamo Bay detainee, forcing the issue that everyone is a victim of war. On the other side of the story, Cole has no doubt that Amir is not guilty of his crimes which she isn’t even aware of. This is not through her guilt of soldiering in Guantanamo, but merely through her admiration of his character. Overall, this is a political minefield.

I didn’t do the best job of ignoring the political implications of this film but as it’s such a heated subject, it is nearly impossible to do so. But solely as a film, this is a very powerful one. A film well made, a story well told, and acting that is gripping in every scene. A controversial but must watch.

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