(2017) (Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez) (PG-13)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Drama: After being assigned to clean up the K9 unit as part of her disciplinary action, a young Marine bonds with an aggressive bomb-sniffing dog as they serve on dangerous missions together.
- It's the early 2000s and Megan Leavey (KATE MARA) is a 20-year-old with no friends, a rocky relationship with her mom, Jackie (EDIE FALCO), who left her dad, Bob (BRADLEY WHITFORD), for another man, Jim (WILL PATTON), and no reason to stay in her small New York hometown. Accordingly, she enlists in the Marines and makes it through basic training. But when she's caught drunkenly relieving herself in public, her punishment is to clean out the K9 unit stalls under the command of Gunny Martin (COMMON). Megan soon desires to be one of the dog's handlers and, after passing basic requirements, is assigned to work with Rex, an aggressive German Shepherd who bit his previous trainer, breaking six bones in his hand.
Megan eventually succeeds in earning the dog's trust and love and -- after learning of the perils of such work in hostile environs from war veteran Andrew Dean (TOM FELTON) -- ships off to Iraq with Rex. There, she gets tips from fellow Marine dog handler Matt Morales (RAMON RODRIGUEZ), and ends up serving on various dangerous missions with Rex, attempting to sniff out IEDs and other hidden explosives and thus prevent other Marines from falling prey to them.
After she and Rex are wounded by such a device, however, she decides not to redeploy for another tour. From that point on, she does what she can to adapt back into civilian life, all while contending with her PTSD and worries about Rex's safety while he's still serving in his bomb-sniffing role.
- OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
- Regardless of any current or past success, I'd wager that at one or more points in most people's lives they've felt lost, aimless and generally unhappy with their particular lot in life. Some turn to escapism -- booze, drugs, promiscuity or other dangerous behavior -- as a temporary fix to alleviate those feelings.
Others, however, get out from such emotionally turbulent clouds by finding some greater purpose in life. I've known people who changed when they became parents, both of the human and "fur baby" varieties. I've also had friends who joined the military and turned their lives around thanks to the discipline instilled into them and their service to their country.
And for some like Megan Leavey -- at least if the "based on a true story" movie account of her real life is completely accurate -- salvation, if you will, came in the double dose of military service and a four-legged companion. Her tale now hits the big screen in a film sporting her name where Kate Mara plays the title character as a young twenty-something who finds no purpose in her life in her small hometown.
Accordingly, she joins the Marines and despite that training still isn't above screwing up, especially when nature calls after a night of imbibing at a local watering hole. Her punishment is to clean out the kennels of the camp's K9 unit, and it's there that she believes her true calling is to become a trainer of one of the dog-sniffing canines.
Screenwriters Pamela Gray and Annie Mumolo & Tim Lovestedt then pair her up with a fellow outcast, an aggressive German Shepherd named Rex. In yet another speedy bit, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite crams a significant segment of the story (after a falling out at home with her mom -- Edie Falco -- and then basic training that also flies by in no time) into a few short scenes of Megan bonding and training with the dog before both are deployed to Iraq.
There, she learns the ropes of working missions "in country" from a veteran dog handler (Ramon Rodriguez) who ends up experiencing some puppy love of his own with his new human companion. Our protagonist then decides not to redeploy but the dog isn't given the choice, thus separating the two. What follows is Megan trying to adapt to civilian life again, all while worrying about her canine partner who's back on duty and likely in constant harm's way.
It's in these moments -- and based on what led up to them -- that the film hits its stride, delivering truly heart-tugging, emotional moments. And much of that stems from Mara's nicely nuanced and believable performance of a lost soul who finds her purpose and happiness, and must then contend with having that taken away from her all while dealing with PTSD. Other performances are solid, while the pooch playing Rex isn't half bad either.
Putting a gender spin on the old "boy and his dog" tale, the film isn't exactly perfect as much of the material feels a bit rushed in the first act and some of the dialogue is a bit too "on the nose." Yet, while the same rushed feeling can be said about protagonist's goals in the third act, it's there that the emotional material kicks in and makes such material -- and thus the overall film, at least to a degree -- surprisingly effective.
And when footage of the real Megan and Max wrap up the offering (along with some "what happened to" on-screen text), you might just have a smile on your face, a lump in your throat, and some extra moisture in the corner of your eye. "Megan Leavey" rates as a 6 out of 10.
Reviewed June 8, 2017 / Posted June 9, 2017
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