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Review: 'Camp X-Ray' finds a solid Kristen Stewart working Gitmo

Kristen Stewart plays a Gitmo guard who slowly warms to a longtime detainee ("A Separation"'s Peyman Moaadi) in "Camp X-Ray."

Kristen Stewart, right, goes to Guantanamo Bay in "Camp X-Ray." Credit: IFC FIlms Kristen Stewart, right, goes to Guantanamo Bay in "Camp X-Ray."
Credit: IFC FIlms

‘Camp X-Ray’
Director: Peter Sattler
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Peyman Moaadi
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

“Camp X-Ray” has a terrible title and a far too simplistic plot. It concerns a fresh fish Gitmo guard (Kristen Stewart) meeting a longtime detainee (Peyman Moaadi), who is almost certainly not a terrorist. Will she learn that not all Muslims are bad? Yes. Will he learn that not all Gitmo guards are sadists? Yes. Will he also get his hands on “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” after having asked previous guards for it and so far clearly been fed a pack of lies? Happily, yes. (Will it ever paint the other detainees as anything other than scary hotheads without even a shred of humanity? Sadly, no.)

But foregone conclusions — even ones played as earnestly as they are here — aren’t in themselves causes for alarm. “Camp X-Ray” is a form of comfort food — or, well, the kind of comfort food that involves man’s state-sanctioned inhumanity to man. It’s the kind of movie that would have come out between 2005 and 2007, when theaters were flooded with sincere, ultimately square and powerfully unsubtle takedowns of the War on Terror and the post-9/11 Bush II administration. The film’s truancy gives it the illusion of being deeper than it seems.

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It’s also far better made than films like “In the Valley of Elah,” “Rendition” and “The Green Zone,” where message, no matter how noble and correct, not only trumped artistry but sometimes destroyed it. “Camp X-Ray” is never subtle; everything one expects to happen happens. But care went into its filmmaking, its performances and even its characterizations. Mostly a series of conversations set in a single, brightly-lit, white hallway, it likes to hang tight on Stewart and Moaddi’s faces. They’re never in the same shot, and in fact the cinemascope frame stresses their isolation further, stranding them in frames with no one nearby. It’s never monotonous; with very little wiggle room cinematographer James Laxton finds eternally fresh ways to shoot two people talking through a thick window.

Stewart’s very good, and that shouldn’t be surprising. Before being sucked up into the “Twilight” vortex — and its resulting tabloid mania — KStew was a respectable actress. Even when she was in the midst of the beast, she would do fine work in “Adventureland,” “The Yellow Handkerchief” and “The Runaways.” She’s downright great, opposite Juliette Binoche, in Olivier Assayas’ forthcoming “Clouds of Sils Maria,” and here finds shaded work as a tough-acting newbie who wears her vulnerability and humanity on her face (and through the actress’ trademark nervous chuckle).

She holds her own against her even better screen partner. Previously seen as the co-lead in “A Separation,” Iranian actor Moaadi doesn’t do the noble, nice good guy. His character has been driven to near-insanity by eight years in Guantanamo; when he tries to make friends with guards he comes off aggressive, even bitter — an uncontrollable force of nature who makes himself hard to like. His impatience with people and his anger help put off the inevitable about-face, which is fine: It’s enjoyable to listen to them bicker then bond, not because of what they’re saying but because of their gifts as performers. It almost doesn’t matter what they’re talking about, which would be just as well.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
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