The Guardian's Xan Brooks wasn't too crazy about first-time feature film director Peter Sattler's Camp X-Ray, screened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival last week, though he did appreciate the acting of stars Kristen Stewart (Twilight, On the Road) and Peyman Moaadi (the male lead in Asghar Farhadi's 2011 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner A Separation). In Camp X-Ray, Stewart plays a U.S. army private sent to Guantanamo, where she befriends one of the inmates, Ali (Moaadi), who claims to be an innocent man trapped in the American gulag and who also happens to be a devout follower of both the Koran and the Harry Potter books. Xan Brooks wrote:
“Nestled somewhere deep inside Camp X-Ray – possibly in handcuffs, conceivably hooded – is a decent, heartfelt film just longing to be free. Sattler deserves credit for spotlighting the dehumanising conditions inside Guantanamo … The performers, too, do the best they can. Moaadi … is suitably anguished as Ali, while Stewart copes well as his pensive prison guard, constantly trying to act more tough than she is. It's a role that reminds us what a fine performer she was in the likes of Into the Wild and Adventureland, before her turn as mopey Bella Swan steered her into a creative cul-de-sac.” (Note: Though released in 2009, Greg Mottola's Adventureland was actually shot in late 2007/early 2008.)
In The Independent, Emma Jones writes that in Camp X-Ray Peyman Moaadi's “excellence” in the exchanges between the prisoner Ali and Private Cole “elevates Stewart: this is the best we've ever seen her,” while in Variety, Rob Nelson writes that Camp X-Ray's “two leads are excellent and play off each other deftly. … [Peyman Moaadi] calibrates precisely the character's mix of humor, anger, despair and endurance. In a turn that will surprise and impress those who know her only from the Twilight films, [Kristen Stewart] is riveting, especially in the final scenes …”
'The One I Love' gets rave
Directed by Charlie McDowell from a loose screenplay – reportedly an outline with some suggested dialogue – by Justin Lader, and lots of improvisation by its two leads, The One I Love stars Elisabeth Moss (Golden Globe winner for Top of the Lake and with another film at Sundance 2014, Ross Perry's Listen Up Philip) and Mark Duplass (as actor: Safety Not Guaranteed; as director: Jeff, Who Lives at Home) as a couple on the brink. According to Geoff Berkshire's Variety review, this mix of romance and fantasy features references to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Twilight Zone, which should make for – at the very least – curious viewing. Ted Danson has a supporting role as a therapist.
Berkshire enthused about The One I Love: “Boasting spectacular performances from [Mark] Duplass and Elisabeth Moss … this incredibly assured directorial debut of Charlie McDowell essentially turns the idea of a two-hander upside down and inside out.”
'Low Down': Solid performances in uneven film
Writing about first-time feature director Jeff Preiss' Low Down, about drug-addicted pianist Joe Albany, Variety's Scott Foundas remarks that Preiss “certainly knows the music and the milieu, but proves less adept at shaping the material into a consistently compelling narrative.” On the plus side, Low Down offers “a gallery of very fine performances from John Hawkes [as Joe Albany], Elle Fanning [as his daughter, Amy Albany] and Glenn Close.”
Kristen Stewart Camp X-Ray photo: Sundance Film Festival.