Bella from Twilight has joined the army where she forms a tentative relationship with a disgruntled Harry Potter fan.
Kristen Stewart stars as Amy Cole, a young army recruit whose career begins with a tour of duty in Gitmo where detainees (not prisoners, importantly) are kept in an endless para-legal purgatory. Here she meets Detainee Amir Ali (Payman Moaadi), a man whom we have seen arrested eight years earlier. He has been brutalised and reduced until he maintains a thin sliver of humanity through futile gestures of rebellion. ‘If I obey the rules than I admit your right to make the rules,’ he tells Cole. Initially the two are hostile, exchanging insults as Amir demands the seventh Harry Potter novel which he feels is being kept from him to torment him further, but Cole begins to see the injustice of the system of which she is a part and an essential kinship between them as both marginalised individuals.
Debut writer and director Peter Sattler does a good job with the day to day life of the inmates and the guards who are themselves reduced to unfeeling automatons, killing time until they can be rotated out. ‘Better than being in Iraq,’ one guard suggests to a whithering look from Cole. The film is well shot and for the most part avoids cliché, but the problem with the film is its restraint. The film isn’t really about Guatanamo at all, but rather about a young American woman going through an unusual and original rights of passage. She will have to overcome the sexism and bullying of her nasty CPL Randy (?) played by Lane Garrison. She will learn to understand the limits of her own ambition and befriend the monster in his den like that other Bella from Beauty and the Beast. The beast who cannot be transformed (for legal and political reasons) Amir is reduced to a heart-warming learning moment and the inadequacy of this response to the injustices meted on him and his fellow prisoners is played out in an ending so bathetic as to be almost intentionally insulting. To hgive everyone the benefit of the doubt, I would say that Sattler was being forced into some kind of upbeat resolution and so sabotaged it by making it as pat as possible.
But ultimately, the film tries to put a gloss on a horrible situation by simply ignoring it, a solution President Obama adopted shortly after taking office.
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