Thirteen years after we first waged war in response to the September 11 attacks in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania, we are still seeing a trickling of films addressing the consequences of the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq. While there have been some great ones, the bulk of them have been documentaries – Hornet’s Nest, Restrepo and Standard Operating Procedure come to mind, while narrative films haven’t had quite the same success, The Hurt Locker winning Best Picture in 2009 being the shining example. There hasn’t been the same connection to the plight of the soldiers in these wars as, say, those who fought in Vietnam with Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Coming Home, The Deer Hunter and Full Metal Jacket leading the critical praise. Camp X-Ray is writer/director Peter Sattler‘s entry into the post-9/11 film mix. a film that hits some high points, but ultimately doesn’t capitalize on an interesting premise.
The opening scene of Camp X-Ray situates us very quickly in the atmosphere of the so-called war on terror. A man, clearly in an Arab country, standing at a table with a pile of cell phones (presumably to be used in IEDs), is surprised, hooded and captured. He is immediately transferred with other detainees, clad in now familiar orange jumpsuits, black hoods and soundmuffling ear phones, to one of the most controversial places on earth, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the eponymous Camp X-Ray. We come to know this man as Ali (Peyman Maadi).
Once at Guantanamo, we meet a set of fresh meat Military Police recruits who have just landed in Cuba to assume their orders to serve where the controversial detainees from operations abroad are housed. After being debriefed about the detainees and operations within the camp, an immediate situation comes up with one the detainees and Corporal Cole (Kristen Stewart) offers to assist. She takes on punch right to mouth, but that only serves to push her harder to prove herself. When she is given detail to check on the detainees every few seconds to make sure they aren’t harming themselves, Cole begins a testy relationship with Ali, at first trying to ignore his incessant droning on and on about the Harry Potter books. As Ali chips away at her resolve, the relationship takes some unexpected turns, first devolving into one based on anger and hate then shifting one the more closely resembles friendship.
What plays out for the bulk of the film is more like 90+ minute version of the scene between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs where Lecter gets Clarice to talk about the lambs. This back-and-forth is more like one wearing the other down not so much in a battle of wits, but a battle of wills. The conversation bounces between culture, religion, politics and the nature of why Ali is at Guantanamo. At times, the exchange between the two is quite mesmerizing, but the duration that it covers renders it toothless at the end. However, it is here where Maadi really shines, battling against Stewart, whose notorious brooding and moping actually become assets and seem well placed in what the characterization calls for. Maadi as Ali builds his case so convincingly that I’m sure if people who support the war and the indefinite detention of people like him saw it, they may change their mind. Stewart should keep this role in mind as she moves forward in her career because she is best suited for films like this.
The film hints at at least one other crucial flashpoint that has recently been in the media – sexual assault/sexually harassing environment in the military, something chronicled so well in Kirby Dick‘s The Invisible War. While the actual act doesn’t happen, we get a dose of how easily it could when Cole has an encounter with Ransdell (Lane Garrison) in the bathroom. This film is timely in that fashion. But I wonder, is it too late into the conflict, this war on terror, for this film? It seems like the public’s general apathy has taken over and they just don’t care about justice, which I think is what this film is all about. The flooding of ISIS and their horrific methods and the ebola virus over all the media outlets and internet seems to have taken what little wind was left in the sails of people caring about detainee treatment.
Camp X-Ray has its moments, but it overplays its hand and allows us to fall too easily under the influence of Ali. Couple that with the hokey ending and it just doesn’t live up to lits promise.This is a film that is better than I expected it to be, though, and I really treasure Peyman Maadi‘s performance. It is truly spectacular. If this film gets any buzz or does well at the box office, I wouldn’t think it outside the realm of possibility to see him get awards consideration.
This film is playing in a limited run in theaters now and is also available on demand, on Amazon as well as iTunes.