It doesn't help that Stewart offers little in the way of an on-screen counterpart. While the actress has tried hard to leave behind The Twilight Saga with roles in films like The Runaways, Welcome to the Rileys and On the Road, this effort just seems to be an exaggerated effort, and her performance doesn't inspire any new confidence. Stewart seems only capable of limited facial expressions, mostly scowls, but at least a role in the military is fitting of her cold, lifeless abilities, which could almost be a compliment.
But the real problem with the film comes from the script. Complete with contrived dialogue, and a scenario that the military simply wouldn't allow, the story is melodramatic and weak. While the narrative has noble intentions and attempts to shine a necessary light on a failing system in our military, there are elements of this film that feel like a TV movie from the 90s. The film is relentless in hitting home the criticism of the military's operation of Guantanamo Bay, but it brings nothing new to the table, and opts for the obvious hammering of an agenda, which wouldn't be unacceptable if it was done more eloquently.
Critics who love to loathe Kristen Stewart will jeer that the actress has finally found an outlet for her trademark scowl: as a rookie US guard at Guantanamo Bay.
But her part as Private Cole in 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.
Cole is kicked, spat upon and showered with excrement by detainees during the first few minutes of the movie: nevertheless, her character looks even more uncomfortable trying to fit in at the military’s off-duty parties. Soon, despite being warned that there can be no connection with her charges, confrontations become conversations with Prisoner 471, a man named Ali, played by Peyman Moaadi of Iranian Oscar-winner A Separation.
The actress seemed to suffer her own punishment after being pilloried for her liaison with Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders; this is the first part she’s taken in two years, saying “it spoke to me”. Presumably she now understands a lot more about the unfairness of life: at one point in the film, Ali says despairingly: “They told me three years ago they knew I was innocent. But no country will receive me now I have been in this place.”
Kristen Stewart has long been maligned for her seemingly unshakeable performance tics – the hair-playing, the lip-biting, the huffy breathing – and despite being gifted with a compelling character in Peter Sattler’s ambitious Camp X-Ray, Stewart simply can’t kick her bad habits in service to a good performance. Sattler’s debut feature is set at Guantanamo Bay, requiring Stewart to play a young U.S. soldier who finds her worldview forever altered by her experiences, and the actress simply isn’t up to the task, bringing down the quality and power of the entire film in the process.
It is impossible to believe that Stewart’s character, at least as portrayed by the actress, has gone through ay kind of military training. Private Cole looks put out when she has to open a door, so the idea that she’s signed up for this stuff, gone through back-breaking basic training, and willingly gone off to Guantanamo is utterly laughable. Cole doesn’t look like she can hack it – and neither can Stewart. Stewart’s face consistently remains stuck in her traditional facial expressions – annoyed and bored – and by the time she starts displaying something resembling actual human emotion, it’s far too late to stick. Stewart’s low energy and engagement with the material rob the feature of plenty of power, much of which is made up by the film’s other star.
The Downside: 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.