VOD film review: Rex
James R | On 19, Mar 2018
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Cast: Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez, Tom Felton
Watch Rex online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Perhaps the only thing less surprising than a war movie is a dog movie. Cinema loves both genres equally, from the gritty, tragic cost of conflict to the saccharine warmth of a human’s best friend. Combining the two might seem like an odd move, but Rex (original title: Megan Leavey) is a moving, surprisingly unique window onto international conflict.
Kate Mara plays Leavey, a Marine corporal who finds herself tasked with cleaning out the K9 unit, after misbehaving in the military. It’s there that she meets Rex, a German Shepherd who is as shell-shocked and stressed as she is. It’s a powerful relationship that Mara and her canine companion bring to life with a heartfelt sincerity – Mara is fantastically restrained as the detached young woman, who joins the army as a way to escape her aimless life, which is mostly spent arguing with her mother (Edie Falco).
She’s matched by an equally efficient, clipped script, with writers Pamela Gray and Annie Mumolo not bothering to spend time on the usual cliched training montages, skipping through all that in five minutes so that we can get to the important bit. Once introduced to each other, Rex draws Leavey out of herself, and Mara’s increasingly engaged presence, unleashed by a script that only slows down to make room for the Marine’s new best friend, is hugely winning.
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who helmed the shocking Blackfish, isn’t a million miles away from those waters, as she captures the hitherto unseen (in cinemas, at least) process of training dogs for use by the army. Their smell and hearing is vital in the uncovering of explosive devices in enemy terrain, and there’s an inspiring bravery that mixes with a tragic sense of expendability, as we the sad way that dogs are put to work – and the humane way their handlers (including Tom Felton and Common, both on fine form) respect them.
By focusing on that bond, rather than the most traditional brotherly connection between soldiers, Rex finds a new urgency on the battlefield that catches you off-guard. The anti-climactic final act (governed by its true-story origins) may lack some punch, but Rex succeeds because it’s a story of friendship rather than fight sequences, providing an ideal showcase for Kate Mara and bringing an emotional clout to the sporadic, low-key action scenes that gives this familiar genre a fresh, nail-biting suspense.