Kristen Stewart leads with her chin in the prison drama 'Camp X-Ray' – and not just by jutting it out in her usual glum-girl pose. In this star vehicle's first few minutes, Stewart's character, Cole, a soldier and recent transfer to the high-security cell block at Guantanamo, is elbowed in the face by a howling detainee. A spot of blood forms on her lip, but – wouldn't you know it? – the jaw stays firm. Writer-director Peter Sattler, whose feature debut this is, is keen for us to know the former 'Twilight' star can take a hit, even as the camera lingers on Cole tightening her hair bun and reining in her feelings.
Nonetheless, those feelings come into play as she bonds, initially against her will, with chatty, English-speaking Ali (Peyman Moaadi), an eight-year prisoner frustrated by the library cart's lack of the final Harry Potter book. How does the magical saga end? Just as you're reeling from the tackiness of this premise, set within such an explosive context, the plot doubles down on it: Ali starts calling her Blondie and she tells him to 'cut the Hannibal Lecter shit.' That's exactly where things are headed, though, and you cringe at banter yet to come.
Aside from dirty protests and a hunger strike included to remind viewers they are, indeed, watching a human-rights drama, 'Camp X-Ray' attempts to shade the situation with a poundingly obvious countervillain, Cole's superior, a sexual predator whose advances during off-time are rebuffed. He then tries to humiliate both Cole and her new Arab friend, Abu Ghraib-style. Who, exactly, are the animals here? It ain't a deep movie. Cole makes discreet inquiries about acquiring the missing Harry Potter book.
As seen in 2011's 'A Separation', Moaadi is naturally magnetic, lending his tortured monologues more dignity than they deserve. And truthfully, Stewart isn't bad – if you forget about 'Adventureland' and the wider range she once displayed. Do these performances outweigh a scenario that feels written by a politically outraged 12-year-old? When the chat gets around to a metaphorical lion at the zoo, you'll wish you were back with the vampires.