Here’s my Super duper Spoiler-filled Camp X-Ray write-up. It’s basically a play-by-play of the movie/story with little tidbits of commentary from yours truly
If you’d like a spoiler-free review, check out my review here.
The movie starts with a close-up of a TV screen depicting the World Trade Center before it collapsed on 9/11/2001. The camera stays on this image then slowly pans out. We realize that the image of the tower burning is on an Arabian TV News program from somewhere in the Middle East. Ali Amir (Payman Moaadi) walks into the room and dumps a bag of phones onto the table and lays them out. The scene then cuts over to Ali’s ritualistic Muslim praying. A man, coming from behind, puts a black bag over Ali’s head. The scene cuts and we are looking at three men, all of Middle Eastern descent, with black bags over their heads, handcuffed, in orange jumpsuits. Two U.S. Military soldiers have guns pointed at them; they are headed to Guantanamo Bay. It’s nighttime; as they arrive, soldiers drag the three men into individual metal cages and finally take the black bags off their heads. Ali’s face is covered in swollen, bleeding wounds. It is never explained in the movie where/why he got these wounds (he probably was tortured while being interrogated). The scene fades with a U.S. Soldier walking towards Ali’s cage, gun pointed.
Eight years later
Ransdell (Lane Garrison) is escorting guards around Guantanamo, giving them a tour – they are new. This is when Cole (Kristen Stewart) makes her first appearance. Ransdell gives a speech to the new guards, saying that their only purpose at Guantanamo is to keep the detainees alive. Cruz (JJ Soria) makes a comment about prisoners and Ransdell yells at him, saying never to call them that. As the group is walking into another room, Cole whispers to Cruz, saying that prisoners are “subject to the Geneva Convention,” detainees are not. The guards continue their tour to the mess hall, a place where “the chicken fingers are the only food they can’t fuck up.” Ransdell gets a call on his Walkie-Talkie about an unruly detainee, and he asks if any of the new guards would like to “get their feet wet.” Cole volunteers, perhaps to prove herself. This special squad is known as the IRF (Initial Reaction Force) that disarms and disciplines out-of-line detainees. Four guards, including Cole, put on bullet-proof vests and clear, hard face masks. Ransdell helps Cole, giving us a hint at a possible relationship starting between them – he is flirting with her. The guards follow Ransdell onto the block. They reach the detainee’s cell and brace themselves as Ransdell opens the door. Cole seems nervous as she takes a deep breath. The detainee is yelling and thrashing as the squad tries to lay him down on his bed to handcuff his arms and legs. It’s a struggle. At first, Cole is just watching. She, then, goes in and tries to help, but the detainee elbows her in the face. She rushes out of the cell, jaw unhinged, lip bleeding. The other guards finally get the detainee under control and handcuffed. As they are walking the detainee out of the cell, Cole is at the door. The detainee spits on her. It’s gross! She wipes her face and kicks the detainee.
The next scene shows Cole, Cruz, Ransdell, and the rest of the gang on the bus, on their way home for the day. They are all joking around. Blah Blah (Blah Blah) asks Cole if her lip hurts. It’s swollen and red. She says no, and asks if he thinks she couldn’t handle it. The joking continues when Ramsdell says that it looks like she has herpes and that he doesn’t mind, he’d still sleep with her. The group laughs, except Cole. She responds back saying, she’d “definitively get herpes, then.” It’s funny.
What is so good about this director is his attention to detail. This movie is full of macro shots of the environment, effecting the pacing of the film. The next scene depicts Cole as she undresses after a day on-duty. You see her take down the bun in her hair and, of course, her shirt (the camera is from behind); Cole is topless with gorgeous wavy hair. She changes into her PJs and Skypes with her mom, which, to me, seemed a little awkward and forced. Nothing natural or necessary for the story was revealed in this scene, except maybe Cole’s inability to keep a man. The scene cuts, and we find her getting ready for duty the next day, putting her hair back up into a bun. There are a few seconds where Cole looks at herself in the mirror. She’s wearing just a tank top. She is looking at herself, perhaps with criticism, perhaps with pride.
The scene cuts and we are back at GTMO. Cole is pushing a cart full of books. We follow her as she has to open three doors by pushing a button and waiting for access. It’s a long, drawn out process. Once at her block, she asks each detainee what book they’d like off the cart. This scene is my favorite. Detainee 471 (Payman Moaadi) asks for the last Harry Potter book. Cole tries to give him the sixth one, but 471 declines, saying that he’s read it ten times and is in turmoil over whether Snape is a bad guy or a good guy. Cole hasn’t read Harry Potter; she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. They go back and forth for a bit, until Ransdell interrupts. Ali, thus, goes on a rant about the guards withholding the seventh Harry Potter book to make him go crazy. Most significantly in this scene, Ali names Cole, “Blondie” and refers to her as such.
Perhaps later, or another day, Cole tries to remain impassive toward Ali when he asks her about where she’s from. He’s aggressive and mean. She yells at him to stop talking like Hannibal Lector. This quiets Ali for only a minute or two before he demands to know what Hannibal Lector is. Cole responds by saying it’s a movie where they talk a lot in it. Ali yells at the other detainees and they repeat what he yells. They all cover their Qurans with towels. Ali asks Cole for a bottle of water. Cole gives it to him and says that he wouldn’t need it if he “didn’t talk so damn much.” As she opens the hatch and hands Ali the water bottle, Ali throws a ‘shit cocktail’ at her, covering her with his feces. This pisses Cole off; she’s disgusted. I would be, too! Two other guards come to her rescue and suggest she call INF. Cole is determined to take the towel that’s blocking Ali’s window. As soon as she claims the towel, he puts up another one. This is the final straw. Cole calls INF. Ali is punished by getting assigned to the ‘Frequent Flyer’ program – every two hours he is transported to a new cell, making it nearly impossible for him to get any sleep.
The next day? Cole, Cruz, Ransdell, Mary (Tara Holt), and others have some fun out to sea and go fishing. Kristen is wearing a one-piece bathing suit (it looks like those that you wear when you are on swim team) underneath a hoodie and basketball shorts. She’s adorbz. Tara is wearing a skimpy blue bikini. Ransdell walks over to Cole who is putting bait onto her hook. Ransdell teases Cole by asking if she needs help since what she’s doing is difficult. Cole smiles and does it perfectly herself. Ransdell seems impressed. Ransdell looks up into the captain’s quarters of the boat, distracted by Mary putting sunscreen or nail polish on (not sure which, but she’s bending over, regardless). In the meantime, Cole is baiting Ransdell’s fishing pole. Ransdell can’t keep his eyes off Mary as she sensually descends the ladder from the captain’s quarters. Cole tries to hand him his fishing pole, but Ransdell isn’t paying attention and almost drops the pole. Cole notices who he’s looking at and seems disappointed. Ransdell follows Mary to the other side of the boat.
That night, the guards let loose and have a party. Kegs and canned beers are everywhere, and everyone is having a great time. Cole, at first, seems a bit shy. Ransdell gives her a beer. She crouches down in her chair, nervously tapping her leg, and biting her lip – this is totally Kristen. Ransdell sits next to her and they chat. You can’t hear what they are talking about, but I’m pretty sure they’re flirting. The scene cuts and you see Cole and Mary pounding a can of beer on their heads, waiting for the can to explode. Kristen goes all hardcore on us and is oddly really good at this (haha!) Cole’s explodes first, splashing beer all over her – how sexy! She goes into the house, beer in hand, for the bathroom. After she does her business, she props herself up on the sink and discovers that the boys have a porn magazine stash. She picks up the top magazine and begins looking at it. Ransdell suddenly opens the door, scaring her. He looks embarrassed by what she’s discovered. She asks him if “this is what [he] likes,” the sexual tension is at an all-time high. He closes the door behind him and rushes over to Cole, kissing her hard .. too hard; he’s aggressive. His hands are all over her; at first, she’s into it, but as he becomes more and more aggressive and forceful with her, she warns him to slow down. He persists; she pushes him off and throws him at the door behind them. He looks at her, pissed off and calls her a fucking bitch. She rezips her jacket and rushes out of the room and out of the house. This scene was so hard to watch because Ransdell is so harsh with her. He’s so domineering and doesn’t listen to her request to slow down. It doesn’t go as far as a rape scene, but it does reveal his character’s true colors – a douchebag.
Cole’s world is changed upside down after the party night. Her attitude shifts. During the interactions with Ali, she becomes more understanding and concerned about him. She treats him like the human he is. He becomes her friend. She doesn’t tell him much about herself, but lets him ask her non-personal things.
Eight months later
The detainees go on a five-day hunger strike. Cole finds out that the reason for their strike is that they want an elliptical machine. The next scene, you see Cole supervising Ali outside during his rec period. He’s kicking a soccer ball around. Cole asks Ali why they wanted an elliptical machine, and he says, “I don’t know, ask Mahmoud.” They are playful with each other and laugh. Ransdell notices this ‘friendliness’ she is showing towards Ali and asks her to escort him to the showers. Cole objects. Ransdell orders her (once she’s ordered, she cannot refuse), explaining that he’s short staffed. This act makes Ali and Cole uncomfortable. Cole avoids eye contact, but is forced by Ransdell to look. This is Cole’s last straw. After her shift, she heads to the bar where she’s met with her friends/colleagues. She finds out that Ransdell wasn’t short staffed and purposefully embarrassed her and Ali. She sees him across the room, taking shots with Mary. She’s determined to get back at him. Cole comes home from the bar and writes up a report against Ransdell. The next day? Colonel Drummond (John Carroll Lynch) calls Cole into his office. He’s not happy that she filed a report against a fellow soldier, in defense of a detainee. She’s lost for words by his response. He, then, proceeds to ask her if she has had a personal relationship with Ransdell (because apparently he told Col. Drummond that there was one between them). Cole is shocked.
Cole is washing a cell when Jackson (Ser’Darius Blain) informs her that she has been reassigned to the night shift. Ironically, upon meeting her watch mate, he mentions why he hates the day shift, saying something like, “they chat your ear off.” Cole side-eyes and agrees. Hearing footsteps, Ali awakes, thinking that Blondie’s absence from her day shift means she’s now on the night shift. This scene in the movie is the most powerful – the best performances by both actors. Ali asks Cole what she’s learned while being at GTMO. Aggressively truthful, Ali states, “You and me are at war.” His face darkens and we see a vulnerability to Ali, a front. They have a heart to heart where Cole reveals her name, Amy … Amy Cole. As their conversation digs deeper, Ali reveals his innocence and his life-long imprisonment. He will no longer call any country a home because no country would take a former GTMO detainee, accused of terrorism. Amy comforts him by saying that you can’t know that – nothing in the future is ever set in stone. Ali’s realization that Amy will be deployed to a new mission the following month sparks his thoughts of suicide. As Amy makes her round, checking on the other inmates, she comes back to find Ali with a sharp metal scrap to his neck, threatening suicide. He yells that there’s no life for him, that his life has a future and that future is dying in his cell .. why prolong the process? Amy, shocked and heartbroken over Ali’s actions, talks Ali down from trying to commit suicide. She tells him an anecdote, which at first seems like a distraction but turns into a poetic metaphor for the situation they both are in. She begins with a story about going to the zoo. She always loved the wildness about the animals there; however, once she finally went, she was outraged by the brutality these wild animals were faced with, the confinement in small cages. Ali interrupts by saying that the Zoo keepers have a choice to be there or not. Amy responds by agreeing and expanding on her story. Everyone says that these animals would never survive in the wild because they are used to their habitat, their cages. They wouldn’t know what to do with their freedom. A tears start to roll down her face, Amy reveals that it’s the animals that should make that decision – to choose freedom over captivity. Amy leaves Ali’s cell, giving him his choice – to kill himself or to stay fighting.
As Amy circles the room, her fear for Ali’s death is heartbreaking. Her breathing quickens as more and more tears form in her eyes. She hesitates when she reaches Ali’s cell. She doesn’t want to look into the window to find him bathing in a pool of his own blood. She looks in and finds him still alive, choosing life. She opens the hatch and reaches her hand out to retrieve the metal piece. Ali gives it to her. Amy takes Ali’s hand and holds it as they both fall apart, crying.
The scene cuts and we see Amy packing up her things. She’s leaving GTMO for her new mission. We are taken back to Ali’s cell as a new guard comes up to his window, asking him what book he wants. He scans the covers with his eyes and comes across the “big yellow book.” He wants that one. It’s the seventh Harry Potter book. He opens the cover and written on the title page is a note from Amy saying something like this,
I don’t know if Snape is a good guy.
But I know you are.
Tears, tears, and more tears. This scene gets me every time! The song, “Kettering” by The Antlers begins playing as we see Amy on a bus taking her away from GTMO. She’s red-eyed and crying. The song provides an emotional backdrop for the two characters as they adjust to a new life – Ali has found hope, Amy has found a purpose.
The closing credits begin with the image of two guards, patrolling Amy’s block (the new guys), circling, circling, circling.
Overall, my opinion of this movie is 5 out of 5 stars. There are a few kinks to be worked out in terms of pacing, especially during the beginning-to-middle half. In terms of Kristen’s acting, it is her best piece of work to date. She is transfixing in the realism she delivers to her character, Amy Cole. I say this with confidence that the media has finally found the talent in Kristen that we’ve all seen from the very beginning. I’ve read many reviews about this film over the past couple of days and not one has criticized Kristen’s performance. She is so strong, so endearing, so remarkable. You will laugh, you will cry, you will think.