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

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by Kevin Jagernauth
January 20, 2014 10:21 AM
16 Comments
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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.


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16 Comments

  • Bella's in the army | January 22, 2014 4:18 PMReply

    “Camp X-Ray needs more depth and less Kristen Stewart.”

    “It is impossible to believe that Stewart’s character, at least as portrayed by the actress, has gone through any kind of military training.” — Filmschoolrejects

  • lulu | January 21, 2014 10:34 PMReply

    Kristen Stewart is a darn good actress and takes roles that these celebrated celebrity actresses are to chicken to take. Jennifer Lawrence is an example of this where Kristen was brave enough to take the role in Equals which JenLaw admitted was a greatb role but said she didn't think she could do it. Now that's the difference between a celebrity actress and a real actress.

    Kristen will take that chance. Jennifer got nominated for an Oscar playing the same kind of woman onscreen she did last year... feisty with issues. I can't believe people are falling for it.

    I'm proud of the path Stewart is taking. She's worked with DeNiro, Bruce Dern, Sean Penn, Jodie Foster, Gandolfini etc... The range of A-list award-winning and legendary actors she's worked with is amazing and more than JenLaws.

    She's an actor's actor. She's not in it to smile and crack jokes on camera. What her parents have to do with anything is beyond me because her mom didn't want her in the business. Even Foster believed she didn't want to act and Kristen is the one who said this is what she wanted to do.

    Critics place pressure on her that they give no other actress all because they hated Twilight. May I remind you all that Twilight is an indie film. It a ready made blockbuster like Potter and the Hunger Games. Plus the main audience were females who made it into a blockbuster.

    Critics need to get over Twilight because Stewart is a Hellboy an actress and all anyone has to do is read and watch what her co-stars have to say about her. She has their respect and that's what matters.

  • Voice of Reason | January 22, 2014 4:16 PM

    lol, Jennifer was being polite. What she meant was it wasn't really a good enough script for her to be interested in "Equals." Nick was cast after she turned it down. His career isn't exactly on fire, so he's taking what he can get. And the film isn't fully funded, so don't count your chickens before they're hatched.

    And if she's so good, why doesn't CXR have distribution?

  • Uninspired | January 21, 2014 10:11 PMReply

    "Kristen Stewart's performance is dead in the water, the basic and uninspired juxtaposition between the two leads fails to work as some dramatic commentary and feels amateur, and the eventually uncomfortable focus on the emotional trials of Cole (over Ali) comes across as tone-deaf."

    Critic Kate Erbland after seeing Camp X-Ray.

  • Bradley | January 21, 2014 10:10 PMReply

    EW didn't think much of her performance:

    “The reason she doesn’t fit in with them isn’t that she’s just about the only woman. It’s that they really seem like soldiers, and she seems like…Kristen Stewart trapped in Guantanamo Bay.” — Owen Gleiberman with Entertainment Weekly.

  • Carpetbagger | January 21, 2014 10:08 PMReply

    By Carpetbagger for the NY Times:
    Enjoy this nice piece “Camp X-Ray,” starring the petite Kristen Stewart as a Guantánamo Bay prison guard, won raves for its script and for Peyman Moaadi as a manipulative inmate. But some film executives soured when it came to the scowly Ms. Stewart.

    (“Does this base have any acting classes?” the chief of one major film company loudly whispered to a colleague during one of her scenes.)

  • m | January 21, 2014 5:04 PMReply

    kristen is a great actress she had a bad rep for twilight she was horrible in it but it wasn't her fault!

  • Kiki | January 21, 2014 10:14 PM

    No, she has a bad reputation for getting caught in an affair with a married director. Rupert Sanders got horrible reviews for SWATH, and so did she, and even worse reviews for her performance with him on a public road in Los Angeles.

    Twilight didn't help her acting cred, but she got even worse reviews for SWATH. It doesn't look like Universal is interested in going ahead with the sequel, they haven't hired a director, which usually means they have no plans to go forward. CXR isn't going to do anything to spur them into action. Looks like she will continue to make little indies that get no distribution.

  • @Z. | January 20, 2014 8:19 PMReply

    Who do you think her parents are?? Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg? She is way more successful than either of them; her dad is a stage manager and her mom is a script supervisor with one bomb of a tiny film as a director. Why on earth would critics decide to go easy on her now after trashing her work for years in Twilight? I know it may be hard for you to swallow, but she has generally been well received in her indie movies, even if they were seen by few. This is no exception and critics from the likes of THR, Variety, LA Times, etc. are giving her lots of praise here. Deal with it and don't see it if you are that closed-minded.

  • GERARDD KENNELLYY | January 21, 2014 2:29 AM

    welcome to the rileys
    the cake eaters
    adventure land
    into the wild
    the runaways

  • MI | January 20, 2014 2:32 PMReply

    Did this movie got distributor?How her underage fans are going to see it?

  • arcticredriver | January 20, 2014 1:23 PMReply

    I am looking forward to seeing this film myself -- but I strongly suspect many of the reviewers' criticisms are based more in the reviewers' misconcpetions about Guantanamo than in flaws in the film.

    Many Americans -- including movie reviewers -- are unable to understand that over half of the Guantanamo captives were completely innocent civilian bystanders. Almost all the remainder of the men, while technically combatants, had zero meaningful association with terrorism. This explain why so many reviewers gave 0 dark 30 a positive review.

  • Monco | January 20, 2014 10:48 AMReply

    I don't have anything against Kristen Stewart. But I have a feeling that maybe, in this movie's scenario all these publications are purposely judging her performance sans much strictness as compared to any other indie movie they usually would.

  • Dave | January 20, 2014 6:22 PM

    Stewart has always received fairly strong reviews for her works with indies. The problem is she does completely off the wall indies that never sell well, like this or the one with James Gandolfini where she played an underage stripper who was abused. I don't know why people think the "critics" would take it easy on her, if anything I saw a lot of snarkiness leading up to Sundance on twitter about this film and a complete turnaround by a lot coming out. She's not the best actress in the world, but she's capable of being quite good in my opinion but it seems like the general public doesn't really want to give her a chance.

  • Z. | January 20, 2014 2:48 PM

    @Monco: Yes, that's what I was thinking as well. Stewart is not a particularly strong actress but they are giving her a pass for two reasons: It's not Twilight and her parents are in the business.

  • Nonstensarecrazy | January 20, 2014 11:17 AM

    wow. Kristen is so powerful that she can buy off anyone she wants. I don't think Obama is that powerful. Nonstens are truly crazy.

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