In a time when the #MeToo culture has really taken hold, it is shameful that strong female characters still feel so stereotypical like Kate Mara’s in Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Rex.
If people purchase this thinking they are getting a Hurt Locker/Green Zone female-led Middle Eastern drama, think again. Although the premise is intriguing, writing concise and set up neatly achieved, Rex suffers from formulaic overload. There are hat tips to An Officer and A Gentleman with obvious gender substitutes, yet the drama never really kicks in.
Kate Mara, who has long been the best thing in everything she appears, is poorly served by conventional storytelling. Dysfunctional family dynamics, thinly written love interests, injured-in-action inevitability and convenient reconciliation help things even less. In a time when the #MeToo culture has really taken hold, it is shameful that strong female characters still feel so stereotypical.
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite gives us serviceable action sequences and concise boot camp montage, but something is lacking. Mara fails to illicit substance from average biopic material purely because she is given so little to do. Her fellow actors including an understated Tom Felton are reduced to mere archetypes but work hard nonetheless.
Production values bring a certain level of authenticity as desert road ambushes, ground level bomb disposal and road side cordons add an element of tension which aids Cowperthwaite in bringing an edge to these encounters mixing close up handheld framing with more conventional tracking shots. But aside from the sparse emotional moments between Leavey and her mother and these dramatic diversions, Rex (known as Megan Leavey in the USA) carries little weight in spite of the efforts elsewhere.
As for Rex himself this is no Turner and Hooch with trench warfare. All bark and plenty of bite, Rex is portrayed as an untameable animal, just as Leavey is given moments of disconnection socially. Unfortunately this sits as awkwardly as everything else while convention hamstrings drama in favour of narrative convenience. Although the bond between Mara and her canine co-star is done well it dilutes an already flimsy love interest sub-plot. As for any PTSD dramatics post tour of duty, this is glossed over with a few counselling sessions before our protagonist is magically cured. As with almost everything else in Rex, it all ties up too neatly which is simply not real life.