Review by Professor John Cooper QC

In 2003, Megan Leavy joined the United States Marines and before she knew it, she was serving in the most hostile of war zones in Iraq.

But Marine Corporal Leavy was not alone. She had Rex.

It is interesting that this movie (available on DVD from the 19 March and digitally from the 12 March) was released in the United States under the title of Megan Leavy. In the UK, the film title has been changed to Rex. Perhaps I should leave those marketing this superb movie to explain that interesting difference, but whatever it is called, this movie is a ‘must watch’ for anyone interested in that unbreakable bond between a dog and his owner.

It is the sort of bond many of us feel for our own companion animals; that no-strings-attached love and devotion that you get from your dog every time you return home. But in Rex we see all of those emotions, but heightened in a background of danger and violence.

Rex is, in fact, a true story. Megan Leavy came from a difficult family background, which in a short scene in the film, dealing with her return home for Christmas, encapsulates the dysfunctional nature of her upbringing. She joined the Marines to escape.

After an indiscretion, Megan is put on kennel duty, where she meets Rex, a German Shepherd, who seems to be displaying behavioural problems. The particularly unsympathetic vet has little time or inclination to delve into the seemingly aggressive dog’s problems, but within weeks of being assigned to Megan, we begin to see a different side to the dog. Both Marine and combat dog form a formidable bond, each of them watching the other’s back.

This becomes increasingly important in the war zone where the two complete more than 100 missions.

Their work comes to a violent and abrupt end in 2006 when both are injured in an IED explosion.

Megan begins her painstaking recovery resulting in an honourable discharge and a Purple Heart for valour. Rex, on the other hand, upon his recovery, is sent back to the war zone in Afghanistan, despite Megan’s efforts to bring him home to her.

A substantial part of this movie deals with the traumatic effects upon Megan of the separation between the two of them, and it is clear that Megan is further traumatised by this cruel separation. But one of the impressive features of this mature film is that it does not demonise either side on the issue about whether Rex should or should not be allowed into a domestic environment post-combat.

Kate Mara in Rex. Credit: Lionsgate UK

Megan Leavy spent five years trying to reunite herself with Rex, finally learning that he was going to be retired and was facing being euthanased, already suffering from facial palsy.

In a previous interview, Megan said, “I’ve taken care of him. He’s taken care of me. It’s a bond you can’t break,” a sentiment that needs no explanation in these pages.

Kate Mara puts in a skilled and sensitive portrayal of Megan Leavy and effectively combines the toughness required of combat personnel with a depth of sensitivity and empathy, a hard act to pull off, which she does throughout the film.

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, who is no stranger to animal welfare related projects, having directed the documentary Blackfish about the treatment of captive whales, and a devoted dog lover and animal advocate herself, this project was in impeccably safe hands.

This is a powerful and inspiring story of the bond between animal and human, which everyone who loves dogs will immediately recognise.

Five stars. Don’t miss it.

Watch an exclusive clip from Lionsgate UK

Win a DVD of new military dog movie Rex

We have three DVDs to giveaway in time for next week’s release thanks to Lionsgate UK. To enter, fill in the form below. Closes Friday 23 March.

Rex is out now on Digital Download and on DVD from next Monday 19th March

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