Film Review: Camp X-ray

The Pawns Of War

Clearly the number one weapon of choice in modern war fare is semantics. It’s usage is the absolute foundation to Newspeak as laid out in George Orwell’s warning to us all about the evolution of absolute State power in his book ‘1984’. It’s clearly a very successful weapon too, how else could hundreds of individuals have experienced ‘extraordinary rendition’ (kidnapping) without charge, often imprisoned for 10+ years and still ongoing, isolated on a US Naval base (Guantanamo) detention centre on the arse end of Cuba.

Another dreadful aspect of this farce is that often supposed intel pointing out individuals that are labelled targets for detention/interrogation (torture) are named by rival warlords or clans, who receive bounty for intelligence. So in effect a rival can not only be removed, but you get paid for it too. Surely that’s a lucrative business opportunity in itself?

Obviously that’s one view of the whole situation and many passion fuelled views could be expressed about the hypothetical lives that have been saved through these kidnappings and that the War On Terror™ gives absolute license to flaunt law, or at the very least rewrite it to suit the agenda. And if not rewrite it, phrase it in a way that is deliberately obtuse, mercurial thus making it difficult to counter. Despite all the confusion and fog, somebody is making money somewhere.

It’s good timing for the release of Peter Sattler’s first directorial release into the world of movies with ‘Camp X-ray’ (2014). The Obama administration recently ‘released’ (do you ever get over years of incarceration without any charges?) a number of ‘detainees’ (a handy rebranding as labelling them prisoners gives them extra protections under the Geneva Convention) and it looks like he plans to finally remove this blight on humanity once and for all during his remaining presidential tenure.


Sattler wrote the script too, and despite (shrewdly) not having an overt political agenda behind the work, it does a mighty fine job of showing how everyone involved (guards and prisoners) are mere faceless pawns in what is a farce of a situation. A sham that everyone is paying for financially in their taxes and psychologically in the constant manufactured sense of dread. A fear as in 1984 being used as a method of control.

There’s a wonderful and frightening opening sequence of a Muslim man quietly sitting in his home, being kidnapped and the absolute fluency/efficiency of his transport to his prison on an island thousands of miles away. There is no evidence of a trial of any sorts, there is no evidence of anything, but that won’t stop the War Machine operating at full speed.

Just as the prisoner Ali (Peyman Moaadi) has been ripped from his home and sealed into a tiny white cell (where the lights are on 24/7), in a way so has recently graduated soldier Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart) as she arrives for her first tour of duty in Gitmo. Coming from a small town, the Army seemingly provided the only source of opportunity for employment (as is the in alot of American areas) and seeing the word. Though seeing the world in this case is a strict work schedule/routine often in areas not much bigger than the cells the prisoners are in. They don’t put that in the recruitment campaign ads.


Out of boredom and naivety (on Amy’s part), and after a few initial ‘glitches’ (Ali’s contemptuous baptism of his captor) a humane tentative rapport developes between Ali and Cole via the magic of Harry Potter. Sattler does a great job of showing that both figures are essentially trapped in a world that doesn’t really make sense at all. Any attempt at trying to figure it out is removed through adherence to rules (no conversing with prisoners) duty, process, routine, ignorance and jingoism.

The cruelty quickly becomes the norm, to the extent it seems at times done to break up the monotony of the day. And such cruelty is tolerated when individuals have been constructively dehumanised in the minds of the oppressors.

Again there is no real blame being labelled anywhere and a constant that was certainly in my mind whilst watching it is all the private sector suppliers that provide everything on the base, it’s costing billions on something that doesn’t serve any genuine purpose.

The movie takes it’s time to develop, over the period of a year in Cole’s tour things evolve slowly. As such this might not be for everyone. That would be unfortunate as it is great work for a first piece, feeling like a quality stage play in it’s simplicity. Both leads do an excellent job of building the friendship from opposite sides of a prison door and Stewart really is making some great choices in distancing herself from the Twilight world.

Being only 25 this is seriously going to contribute to her receiving the respect and credibility that she is proactively chasing. Peyman is equally great at bringing a level of depth and heart to a soulless environment.


Camp X-Ray is out on DVD and VOD now.