Camp X-Ray is an enthralling psychological drama about the interaction between the detainees and guards at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Kirsten Stewart gives an amazing performance as a Private Amy Cole, a new guard assigned to watch over the “hard core” detainees. The “hard core” prisoners are those who refuse to accept the rules, and there is a constant grueling psychological warfare between them and the Army guards.
Although the guards are not supposed to converse or interact with the prisoners, it is almost impossible not to. The guards are stuck in a small windowless hallway for 12 hour shifts, with their only function to walk back and forth and watch the prisoners.
A prisoner names Ali (played by Peyman Moaadi) constantly tries to strike up conversations with Cole. Finally out of sheer boredom and loneliness, Cole begins to answer him. Ali is intelligent, fanatical and somewhat crazy. He has already been at Guantanamo for 6 years.
Camp X-Ray does not try to take a political position about whether or not the Guantanamo Bay prison should exist. It’s focus is simply on two people trying to survive while at the same time remaining true to themselves.
At one point Private Cole asks Ali why he doesn’t just follow the rules, since that would make everything easier for him. Ali’s answer is that “if we followed the rules, we would be accepting that you have the right to give us the rules.”
The punishments for infractions are severe. Prisoners who refuse to eat are force fed through tubes. Those who scream in their cells are brought down and shackled by a 5 soldier team.
The prisoners are allowed to choose books to read, which the guards bring to the cells. Ali is obsessed with Harry Potter and is enraged that for 6 years he has been unable to get the final book. He is convinced that that the Americans purposely withheld the final book to punish him. Is he right, or is he just going crazy? Kirsten Stewart and Payman Moaadi are amazingly talented actors, and their interactions are riveting.
Marco Kahn is Mahmoud, the most violent of all the hard core prisoners. His sheer size makes difficult for even 5 guards to control him during his rages. The other prisoners respect his resistance, but also feel he is a bit of a an arrogant jerk. At one point he forces the prisoners to go on a hunger strike to demand a piece of exercise equipment. When the Colonel finally caves in and gives them the equipment, the prisoners never use it. The strike was, of course, never about the equipment, but about a test of will.
John Carroll Lynch is Colonel Drummond, the commander of the prison. He openly admits that he hates the assignment. Col. Drummond points out it is the type of job that if you do it perfectly no one notices, but if you make a mistake it is a major international incident.
Lane Garrison is the tough as nails Corporal Ransdell. At one point, he makes Private Cole guard Ali while Ali is taking a shower. Ransdell knows that for a Muslim, having a strange woman see you naked is humiliating.
Ransdell gives Cole the assignment anyway, asking her “Are you a soldier, or a Female soldier?”. The question of people trying to decide who they really are is main focus of Camp X-Ray. In a sense Colonel Drummond, Private Cole and Prisoner Ali are all trying to see if in their insane violent world they can somehow also remain Human.
- We give Camp X-Ray our highest rating of 5 Stars *****
- See our review Hunger, the fascinating movie about Bobby Sands and the IRA hunger strike.
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