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Sundance: Guantanamo Bay Drama 'Camp X-Ray' May Not Always Work, But Kristen Stewart Shines In First Reviews

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist January 20, 2014 at 10:21AM

While we've got a few people currently on the ground at the Sundance, the festival's crammed scheduling still means that there are just some movies we aren't going to get to. And try as we might, we just couldn't make a screening of "Camp X-Ray" starring Kristen Stewart fit onto our calendar.
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Camp X

While we've got a few people currently on the ground at the Sundance, the festival's crammed scheduling still means that there are just some movies we aren't going to get to. And try as we might, we just couldn't make a screening of "Camp X-Ray" starring Kristen Stewart fit onto our calendar.

One of our 30 Most Anticipated Films Of The Sundance Film Festival, the first-time feature from director Peter Sattler tells the story of a young woman who works as a guard in Guantanamo Bay, where she befriends a detainee.  It sounds like provocative stuff no matter who's in the lead role, but of course the project gained a bit more attention when Bella herself signed up. So how did it all turn out? While opinions on the actual movie might be mixed, most agree that Stewart gives a terrific performance, even if the mechanics of the plot and themes don't always come together.

So, in lieu of our own review, here's a roundup of what other critics are saying about "Camp X-Ray," from the good to the bad to the ugly....

The Hollywood Reporter: " 'Camp X-Ray,' leaves aside the controversy surrounding Guantanamo Bay to focus instead on a personal drama of human connection and compassion, deftly drawn out of the mundane day-to-day of cellblock life. In essence a two-hander, it balances a powerfully internalized performance from Kristen Stewart, delivering perhaps her best screen work to date as an inexperienced military guard, against an equally compelling characterization from Payman Maadi as the long-term detainee who pierces her shell. Its psychological complexity and rich emotional rewards should ensure this expertly crafted if overlong film a significant audience."

The Guardian: "Sattler's film leans on its actors too heavily. It heaps too many implausibilities upon their trembling shoulders. After an hour in 'Camp X-Ray,' the strain starts to show."

The Telegraph: "[The director's] soft-focus approach to this recruit with a heart of gold denies the film any lasting punch."

Collider: Though the script could do with less melodrama and more nuance, 'Camp X-Ray' is compelling more often than not.  Moaadi is excellent in the role of Ali, and he and Stewart are able to play off of each other quite well.  The issues surrounding Guantanamo Bay would probably be better served by a more consistent script, and while 'Camp X-Ray' never reaches its full potential with regards to further exploring those themes, it remains a mostly solid character drama.

Variety: "Personalizing the war on terror through its story of the tricky friendship that develops between Stewart’s tough-and-tender private and a Middle Eastern inmate (Payman Maadi) whom she’s instructed never to call a prisoner (those are protected by the Geneva Convention), first-time writer-director Peter Sattler’s pic means very well, but strains credibility and ethics alike."

Indiewire: "Sattler's frustratingly on-the-nose screenplay — which finds Stewart's character forming an unlikely bond with an uncooperative detainee (Peyman Moadi) — only succeeds at emphasizing her talent in an otherwise half-baked drama." 

HitFix: " 'Camp X-Ray' is going to be a hard commercial sell, but the film has a delicate human heart, and it is ultimately rewarding. I think it's a strong indication of what Stewart can do with the right material, and it makes a case for Maadi as one of the most interesting character actors working right now. Solid, small, and sincere, 'Camp X-Ray' offers an important perspective to a difficult conversation."

Vanity Fair: "The movie doesn't dig too far under the surface, but Stewart is a watchable pawn in the prison's mechanics. If you've written her off, realize you've under-appreciated her all this time."

The Independent: " 'Camp X-Ray,' a debut film feature by Peter Sattler, is actually a vehicle for Stewart to express the vulnerability lurking behind her red-carpet taciturnity. Here, the 'Twilight' star confronts different monsters, and Sattler’s point is that they tend to be the ones signing the orders, not the ones kept behind bars."

Browse through all our coverage of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival by clicking here.


This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, Camp X-Ray, Kristen Stewart


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