This year’s Sundance Film Festival is all about the CAMP X-RAY buzz. The most obvious reason is that the former Twilight star and Indie-extraordinaire, Kristen Stewart, takes the spotlight as the female lead in this Guantanamo Bay drama.
The film opens with a scene from 9/11, just before the World Trade Center collapses. The camera pans out and we are introduced to our male lead, Payman Moaadi. He’s depicted as living an ordinary life as a modern Arab in the Middle East, but is soon kidnapped and taken to what we learn to be Guantanamo Bay, a United States Military Prison established to detain extraordinarily dangerous prisoners. The film, although lengthy at times, follows a female prison guard, Amy Cole, as she discovers humanity in its most organic form.
Kristen, at first, shows a very familiar acting style — it’s her comfort zone. She draws from her own developed nuances to give life to every character she portrays. This is how she brings the element of realism to her characters. As the film progresses and you learn who her character is, you start to see this actress blossom, coming out of her shell. Kristen’s most brilliant work rears itself in the scenes where she’s working opposite Payman. Their chemistry is perfect; it builds into something so heartfelt. The last third of the film, you finally get to see a side of Kristen that you’ve never seen before. Perhaps the most powerful, is the final 30-minute uncut scene between Cole and Ali (Payman).
The handling of the heavy subject material was respectful and poses an important question we as Americans should be aware of — a new form of discrimination based on assumptions, not facts. Smartly, the story shifts from sympathizing with Ali and with Cole, a very balanced way of storytelling. We feel for Ali based on the circumstances he is in. We feel for Cole in that the more she discovers the real person behind Detainee 471, the more she treats him as the human being he naturally is.
In terms of direction, Peter Sattler does a great job as a newbie feature film director. The pacing is a little off — some parts seemed to drag on while others seemed right. The original score is paired beautifully with the motion picture. It did what it’s supposed to do — it made you feel.
At it’s world premiere in Sundance to an audience of 1200, CAMP X-RAY received a standing ovation. Peter Sattler, Kristen Stewart, and cast were all in attendance and stayed afterwards for the Q&A. Kristen, known to be shy when it comes to press, was in great spirits, embodying a new, confident self.