It’s been a while since Kristen Stewart has treated us with her signature brand of what we may now call as “constipated scowl” acting. Two years back, anyone who paid to see the closing chapter of the Twilight saga and Snow White and Huntsman got the full shivery, lip-biting, eyelid-flickering, perpetually semi-gaped mouth Stewart treatment, which anyone below 15 would have considered refined acting $killz. You might even call it practical: she encompasses the splendiferous range of human emotions with a single facial expression – the world-renowned constipated scowl. Now she’s back in 2014 scowling more than ever, demonstrating the method to great effect in this Guantanamo Bay prison drama Camp X-Ray. If Oscars were to give Best Scowling Actress award, she would win it without any contest. It’s the finest, fiercest scowling performance she’s ever done in her career thus far.[divider]+[/divider]
When the camera shifts into the prison cells looking out, with Stewart framed against the very little gap, Camp X-Ray shows fleeting insight into the parallell confinement shared between soldier and enemy, locked in a ceaseless discourse of inhumanity.[divider]+[/divider]
It’s a glove-fit role for Stewart, then. She convincingly plays a young woman who’s unconvincing at being a military cadet, forced to toughen up and play the emotionless automaton in front of the purported enemies on the War of Terror. Without a hint of sarcasm, she deploys those skills into good use here and her Pvt. Amy Cole wears a justifiably hardened, no-nonsense face all throughout as if everything around is all putrid. She doesn’t go so far as going the buffed-up, post-feminist Demi Moore circa G.I. Jane route, but rather the impassive female determinism of Jodie Foster – all stone-faced façade hiding layers of vulnerability underneath. Such opportunity gives Stewart a peach of a role that allows her to unshackle from the swooning, passive imbecile that marked her commercial choices. She and Paadi Madal (you know him as the husband from the magnificent A Separation) give thoughtful performances, their characters forming an unlikely alliance as soldier and captive, respectively.
What Camp X-Ray offers though (aside from the clear marketing gambit of Stewart) is a rare look into the great Guantanamo debate with little of the sermonising we’ve known from the few documentaries shown about the subject. Peter Sattler sidesteps any semblance of political didacticism, giving way to scenes of systemic routines and character rumination. Be that as it may, no matter how well and dedicated Sattler is to portraying workaday prison camp life, his film rarely goes so far beyond as merely suggesting “it’s not always black and white”. Thankfully, Camp X-Ray is sensible enough to avoid narrowing down to Manichean morality, but not that smart enough to suggest something more complex and profound. Soldiers aren’t allowed empathy, inmates are treated badly – these are the runaround thesis that Sattler keeps going back into. And when she shifts the camera into the prison cells looking out, with Stewart framed against the very little gap in a tight cell, Camp X-Ray shows fleeting insight into the parallell confinement shared between soldier and enemy, locked in a ceaseless discourse of inhumanity. It’s a brief insight in an otherwise monotonous, calculated drama that would, no doubt, make you wear a scowling Stewart face.