SUNDANCE 2014

Sundance 2014: Kristen Stewart & Melodrama Restrain 'Camp X-Ray'

by
January 18, 2014

Camp X-Ray

While controversy still stirs around the fact that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp remains open after a promise to close from our Commander in Chief, graphic designer turned writer/director Peter Sattler attempts to pour salt on the wound with Camp X-Ray. The film follows a young female soldier (Kristen Stewart) newly positioned at the infamous detainee (we don't call them prisoners to avoid upholding the Geneva Convention) camp. As the superior officer explains, the soldiers' responsibility isn't to keep these detainees locked up, it's to keep them alive. And it's one of the most monotonous jobs the military offers.

From the very beginning, it's easy to see that Sattler intends to show just how despicable and even silly a detainment camp like Guantanamo Bay actually can be. While Sattler tries to lend weight to his argument against camps such as this by having a soldier be the one experience these questionable tactics and treatment of detainees on site, it feels artificial and full of melodrama, removing any real impact the film might have had. Though the director cleverly uses the monotony of these soldiers' tasks in repetitive sequences as a way to get the message even further across, it's just the tip of a heavy-handed iceberg that the film slams the audience into enough times to sink a dozen Titanics. The soldiers are like prisoners too!

Peyman Maaodi (who broke out in A Separation) does his best to give the film some gravitas as a friendly, seemingly falsely accused detainee, but it seems all too convenient that every single other member of the accused is the portrait of a cliche, Middle Eastern suspected terrorist. This film gives no depth to anything that doesn't involve Stewart and Maaodi, making it feel careless and lazy. Still, Maaodi deserves plenty of praise for maintaining his part in the film, which seems to be the only worthwhile piece of work on display.

It doesn't help that Stewart offers little in the way of an on-screen counterpart. While the actress has tried hard to leave behind The Twilight Saga with roles in films like The Runaways, Welcome to the Rileys and On the Road, this effort just seems to be an exaggerated effort, and her performance doesn't inspire any new confidence. Stewart seems only capable of limited facial expressions, mostly scowls, but at least a role in the military is fitting of her cold, lifeless abilities, which could almost be a compliment.

But the real problem with the film comes from the script. Complete with contrived dialogue, and a scenario that the military simply wouldn't allow, the story is melodramatic and weak. While the narrative has noble intentions and attempts to shine a necessary light on a failing system in our military, there are elements of this film that feel like a TV movie from the 90s. The film is relentless in hitting home the criticism of the military's operation of Guantanamo Bay, but it brings nothing new to the table, and opts for the obvious hammering of an agenda, which wouldn't be unacceptable if it was done more eloquently.

Camp X-Ray tries too hard to make a statement, rather than telling a quality story. If it wasn't for Maaodi as a co-star this film would be flawed all over the place. And while the ending offers a glimmer of hope for a story that once wasn't overshadowed by the film's all too clear theme, that too suffers from being mawkishly sentimental. For anyone hoping Stewart might finally show her acting chops have some bite, this is greatly disappointing. And while it's hard to argue with the idea put forth in the film's narrative, it's easy to see that this film lacks subtlety and lessens what could've been a devastating, provoking piece of filmmaking.

Ethan's Sundance 2014 Rating: 4 out of 10
Follow Ethan on Twitter - @Ethan_Anderton

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  • Internet Reality
    Oscar worthy
    • Wafffles
      ...said no Kristen Stewart movie viewer ever.
    • gabriele705
      DVD
  • HoneyMoon
    Funny that the writer was hoping for the film to make a huge statement but in reality the director of the film has NEVER INTENDED for the film to be political at all. I don't get where Ethan got the idea that the film was about making a statement when it is not. It was a film about the relationship between the prison guard and its detainees, while underlying the issues about Guantanamo camp itself WITHOUT being political at all. Based on other reviews I've read on Kristen's acting in this movie, I think Ethan was a victim of his own personal view on the actress. Other big reviews praised Kristen's acting. The Guardian, The Telegraph, Hollywood Reporters, Variety and what not all praised Kristen's performance in this movie as one of her best performances in acting and might have been her best to date yet. So, I will just put Ethan's negative review on Kristen aside as his is minority. Again...I think Ethan got the point wrong on the message this movie was trying to convey to the audience.
    • http://www.firstshowing.net/ Ethan Anderton
      You're right. Film isn't subjective at all. And it's probably best to form an opinion on a film you haven't seen, starring an actress you're predetermined to worship no matter what (while I hold no grudge against her), and speak based on other people's perception. Saying that this is one of Kristen Stewart's best performances isn't saying much, and while she's better in this film than previous efforts, she's still not great. Also, a director can SAY that he's not trying to be political, but that's also a bias view. The film clearly has an agenda, and tries to use a poorly character driven story to make it work. But it doesn't. Stop blindly defending a film you haven't seen.
      • youalmosthadme
        you sound defensive and biased - for example - have you seen all her previous efforts - because "it's probably best NOT to form an opinion on a film you haven't seen..."
        • http://www.firstshowing.net/ Ethan Anderton
          I don't think you know what the word "bias" means, because you are the textbook definition of the word, not to mention intrinsic irony. Also, I'm not forming an opinion on films I haven't seen, but you are.
    • gabriele705
      why even make a Movie than , Look at Kathryn Bigelow and hurt locker , again a solid performance isn't saying anything
    • MCR
      Don't worry about it. A month later, First Showing says Stewart could get a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Camp X-Ray. At worst, they cancel each other out.
  • lily lawrence
    I think ethan's review is so wrong and ridiculous. If you hate kristen stewart so only said that and don't judge her acting like that. You think you're the best person in the world????
  • mzmz2z
    The only bad review for Stewart I have seen...EVERYONE else must be wrong huh SMH?
    • gabriele705
      there are lots of negative reviews, this is just the beginning , a solid performance is the same they say about Timberlake and other actors who they are not sure about. Its an iffy describtion. If they like it they call it brilliant..I know because I work in the industry. Sorry if you are dissapointed
  • Eric Kingman
    I agree Ethan. Having this camp is silly. We should just execute them and be done with it. Thank you for highlighting the lunacy of keeping them locked up forever.
  • opinionsismine
    Your bias is showing the second you said she did not have expressions. Everyone knows that is is the public stigma that has been unjustifiably been put on Kristen.Google her name then click on images and see all of her pictures with a whole range of facial expressions. I saw the movie too! She.She puts her all into her movies. The movie did not call for a actress with big fake grin on her face all the time. Kristen can portray joy,show anger and pain when the script calls for it. It was not in the script for her to be all happy. She was supposed to be a tormented soldier that has to put up with abuse from her superior and the detainees. It is a dark movie and Kristen had it in her to show Coles vulnerability and sarcastic since of humor. I was totally in tune with Cole because of Kristen.At the end of the movie I cried because of Cole's innate goodness,and Kristen brought that to life. I suppose you think Jennifer Lawrence would have played the part differently?Maybe you would have related to her differently? Because that is how the ball roles in Hollywood. Image and stigma go hand and hand.I got news for you their are millions and millions of people around the world who relate to Kristen just fine and they will love this Kristen in this Movie. It is some of her best acting!

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