Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kristen Stewart, Payman Maadi, Lane Garrison, John Carroll Lynch, Joseph Julian Soria, Tara Holt
Written by: Peter Sattler
Directed by: Peter Sattler
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief nude images
Running Time: 117
Date: 10/31/2014

Camp X-Ray (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Cell Game

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Written and directed by former graphic artist Peter Sattler, Camp X-Ray seems like an attempt at a timely and powerful War on Terror movie for the fall awards season. It also seems like an attempt by star Kristen Stewart to break away from her dewy Twilight character into tougher and more grown-up roles. But the good news is that it works. The movie plays on a very basic level, focusing on the viewpoint of one character, and forgoing any grand comments or gestures on the rightness or wrongness of it all.

A young woman, Cole (Stewart), has joined the army because she wanted to do something important. Now she has ended up as a guard at Guantanamo Bay, where her job is to not prevent the prisoners from escaping, but to help keep them alive. Also, there are no "prisoners," but "detainees" (detainees are not covered by the Geneva Convention). While she's pushing the library cart, one prisoner, Ali (Peyman Maadi, sometimes credited as "Moaadi"), asks her for the last Harry Potter book. Though she's not allowed to have conversations with prisoners, she eventually finds herself drawn to him to the point that she's willing to risk her army career to protect his well-being.

It's relatively intimate, and even though it has some tough moments, it's not deliberately grueling or exhausting. Stewart is quite good, rising above her infamous lip-chewing teen angst into a character that keeps her sadness, disappointment, and even hope, locked on the inside. Maadi (from the Oscar-winner A Separation) is also quite good, operating mainly on learned survival tactics. Even though they only communicate through doors and glass, their chemistry is very touching.

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