February 20, 2016 -- I'd been wanting to see this for some time because I'd heard good things about it. I saw it on the list of new DVDs at the library, so I checked it out. Glad I did. This is an excellent movie. It is a powerful drama set at the Guantanamo Bay prison. It avoids political posturing and gets down the human interaction between guards and prisoners, while avoiding the usual prison clichés.
Kristen Stewart stars as Amy Cole, a woman from a small town who joins the U.S. Army and ends up at Guantanamo Bay (known as Gitmo). At the beginning of the film, she is a true rookie. She has just shipped in, and knows nothing about the workings of Gitmo. At the orientation, the officer tells her and the others they are not here to prevent escape. They are there to keep the prisoners alive. The cells are patrolled constantly to prevent suicides.
Cole gets a rude welcome on the first day at Gitmo, being hit in the face by a large, powerful prisoner. One of her jobs is to distribute books to the prisoners from the library. She encounters a chatterbox prisoner, Ali (Peyman Moaadi) who demands a copy of the seventh Harry Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Ali had read all the other books, but not the seventh. The Harry Potter books are apparently popular among the Gitmo prisoners. The books are a frequent subject of conversation between Cole and Ali.
The guards are under strict orders not to share their names or any personal information with the prisoners, especially prisoners like Ali, who have been at the prison so long they know more about what is going on there than the guards do. Ali, who is college educated, is considered a troublemaker by the guards. Ali doesn't recognize the authority of the guards, and refuses to cooperate with them. At one point, he becomes angry and throws his own excrement on Cole.
A hunger strike is also depicted in the film, and the force feeding of the striking prisoners, using feeding tubes inserted through the noses of the prisoners, who are held rigidly in restraints. Cole grows to hate being at Gitmo. During a dinner conversation with another guard, she indicates she'd rather be in combat than continue being a guard at Gitmo. She hears of another guard who tried to kill himself.
Growing increasingly frustrated and unhappy, she files a complaint against one of her superiors, corporal Ransdell (played by Lane Garrison of “Shooter”) who forces her to watch Ali strip naked and take a shower, a situation that neither she nor Ali is comfortable with. She is called in to see Colonel James Drummond (John Carroll Lynch of “Paul”) concerning the complaint. It turns out the colonel understands the situation better than she does.
There is a final, dramatic situation that needs to be resolved before Cole ships out to her next assignment. The acting in this movie is superb, highlighted by the powerful lead performances by Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi. The supporting performances are also good. Writer and Director Peter Sattler has crafted a powerful, moving drama. One of the best films of 2014. This film rates an A.
Before I saw “Clouds of Sils Maria,” I had seen Kristen Stewart mostly in those dreadful “Twilight” films. I thought she couldn't act. Turns out, those were just bad stories and scripts. She was playing a passive character, written with no emotional range. After seeing Clouds of Sils Maria, I knew that Stewart can act, and she proves it again here, with a great performance.
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