Camp X-Ray is an almost masterpiece. It’s almost a good movie which also means it’s not a bad movie at all. There has been such a sudden rise in the number of semi-political indie films that have been coming out lately and they all seem to have that same flow but Camp X-Ray stands out. Just a little bit. I can praise this movie on several ends but I want to be realistic enough to tell you it’s not that great, either. You shouldn’t put down everything you’re doing and watch it right away. I want to openly admit that a certain scene made me weep in that ugly, private way you never want anyone to see. Not that movies don’t make me cry, au contraire, I cry during movies all too easily. I find it difficult to weep for people I actually know, but movie characters get under my skin with great ease. I live most of my life vicariously, bite me.
“…The man who committed these crimes has blond hair and blue eyes. These details are shared repeatedly in a litany of disbelief. Too many people expected the perpetrator of this crime to have brown skin and a Qur’an because we need to believe that there is only one brand of extremism. This is the world we now live in. We forget compassion. We pretend we are somehow different from those we otherwise condemn…”
I can’t help but wonder how so many instances in my life are such big coincidences. I ventured into Camp X-Ray knowing as little as possible – details about the cast, genre of the movie – and it was actually worth the while. To be able to enjoy a movie with as little adulteration from other people’s opinions is often the best way to be objective. Camp X-Ray is a concise movie in Camp Guantanamo where Muslim jihadists and supposed terrorists are restrained as detainees sometime post 9/11. The movie is mostly filmed from the viewpoint of Amy Cole played by Kristen Stewart who joins the military with the intention of being a part of something bigger than the small town she comes from. Cole doesn’t know what she has landed herself in and finds that things are not just black and white. She develops a peculiar bond with one of the detainees after he constantly jabbers away at her when she’s on duty. Cole and this detainee, Ali Amir played by Payman Maadi are the windows for the audience into both viewpoints. Behind the locked door and outside it. For the first 90 minutes I would say the movie plays out brilliantly. Not too overtly putting across ideas yet offering glimpses and leaving things to imagination. It can just as easily be argued that Camp X-Ray is more about Amy Cole and what she undergoes being a woman soldier than just about the injustice done to a certain type of Muslims, believed to be extremists. That being said, and now that we have the plot out of the way let me tell you why I love and don’t love the movie. Camp X-Ray is a movie about the terror after the actual terror has passed. It encompasses what many movies have done before but offers a different insight into it. The torture elements are not the highlights of the movie and are so few and far in between that they seem routine prison protocol, really. Even their emergency protocol when a detainee steps out of line involves taking the detainee from pod to pod, cell to cell, all night long for a week by plane. This definitely leaves the detainee disheveled and unable to sleep for that entire week. Yes, that is torture. Yes, like one of the soldiers says, “That’s brutal,” but really, I mean, we know for a fact that what happened in other places at the same time was much worse. Many documentaries and movies have been made about it and sold on just that fact alone. Audiences love a good cry. Audiences love seeing movies like 12 Years A Slave. I love Camp X-Ray obviously because of Payman Maadi. After watching it, I can openly challenge anyone that this man is capable of pulling off absolutely anything thrown his way. I am Team Maadi, forever. This is embarrassing and exhilarating to admit but I could only resist it so much. I love Camp X-Ray even more for Kristen Stewart. What do I say about her that hasn’t already been said before in reference to her Twilight image? I could say, that perhaps, I liked her very much in the Twilight saga but because I reached a certain age where everyone was making fun of the series, I had to cut down my feelings and join the herd. I could also say that I liked Kristen Stewart even before that but it’s hard for me to point why exactly. I can now. Kristen Stewart has long since been pushed around with everyone saying her face lacks expression. She has been ridiculed, used in memes to depict she can’t make one emotion look different than the other and in short, something that the character Bella was supposed to be which everyone suddenly had a problem with when it was portrayed on the big screen. I have wanted to talk about this openly for such a long time now and I feel like this movie opened the floodgates to my repressed opinions. If you’re uninterested about it, you can skip a paragraph. As anyone who read the Twilight love story at the age of 13, I fell in love with the books right away. As someone who grew up way too fast between 14-17 and saw what more can be done with genres like romance and horror, I knew I couldn’t love the series the same way ever again. I knew that it was meant for a certain age group with a certain mindset and I had clearly outgrown it. Why the books appealed so much to girls is because Bella made us feel it was okay to be average. Which is what Kristen Stewart was meant to be on screen. When you take a book which reads in the first person and you make a movie out of it, you simply cannot include countless monologues of this person. You have to draw a line and make your character come alive through their behaviours and interactions and even then you are compromising. So Kristen Stewart got caught up in playing an awkward, unconfident teenager who is being pursued by a very good-looking, gentlemanly vampire. Stewart became the girl most girls identified with but also despised. It was confusing and it took me a while to be done with my obsession with the books and the movies. Kristen received so much flak many years after the movies were done, which I’m not sure I understand entirely. Both the Breaking Dawn installments were remarkably successful at the time and we saw a more meaningful and expressive performance from her as a new-born vampire and mother. Where she went wrong was after these movies. Her choices and the roles she took up only went on to feed the mindset of people that she can only play a certain type of role and in short, cannot act. Some even went as far as to say she bagged the role of Bella Swan through nepotism. Who knows. In a tough movie such as Camp X-Ray, Kristen Stewart single-handedly hits the ball back onto the court of everything her haters splurged on. She expresses herself in scenes requiring minimal dialogues, she is bare in the sense that you can see that there has been no need for any makeup, she executes one of the most powerful scenes in the movie at the end with such finesse it’s hard to ever believe she was accused of being expressionless. It almost seems as though her acting abilities were on par with Payman Maadi, which is probably the biggest compliment I could hand out to her. There is a scene in the movie where the Captain asks her, “Are you a soldier? Or are you a female soldier?” What Kristen Stewart achieved in this movie is worth noting. Her character demanded her to fit into an environment where on duty she was supposed to be at par with her male counterparts but to be somewhat submissive when they weren’t in uniform. It’s a hard but true fact that this kind of unfairness is a part and parcel of being the gender minority in the military. My problem with the movie is the final crescendo. My bone to pick is that the movie was running at such a good pace and the last few minutes kind of goofed it up. Maybe certain movies need to be brought around full circle – to satisfy the audience, among other things. But that’s the thing about indie movies, sometimes they aren’t required to follow that. I can think of so many better endings. Now that I’ve assimilated all parts of the movie, I can say that the ending need not have been so hopeful. And even then the irony is, a part of the final crescendo moved me to tears and brought me to write this review. I would say, watch Camp X-Ray for the acting and for those sudden breakthrough scenes, but not so much for the plot.