Megan Leavey ***

Moving story of a Marine and her dog will not offend animal lovers but might evoke a tear or two.  

Is it worth $10? Yes 

The first thing dog lovers will want to know about “Megan Leavey,” which tells the story of a Marine and her bomb-sniffing dog, is whether the dog makes it through the movie okay. <Spoiler warning: skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want/need to know.> So here it is: The dog makes it through just fine. If you love dogs or animals and absolutely hate seeing anything bad happen to them, you’ll be okay. This is a movie that champions animals, and rightfully doesn’t use them for pathos.

Based on a true story, it’s 2001 and 20 year-old Megan (Kate Mara) is a lost soul. She lives at home with her mother (Edie Falco), whom she can’t stand, and her mother’s deadbeat boyfriend (Will Patton), whom she despises. Her father (Bradley Whitford) is loving, but not around much. Her best friend is dead, and she has no job. Life sucks.

Megan’s answer is to join the Marines. It’s good for her in terms of structure, discipline, and respect for authority. After a rowdy night out she’s assigned to clean the dog kennels, and the idea of working with dogs piques her interest. Her commanding officer (Common) eventually warms to her and allows her to work with bomb-sniffing dogs, which leads her to a German Shepherd named Rex. At first Rex is an aggressive jerk, but soon the two bond and it’s off to Iraq they go. While there they complete more than 100 missions and save countless lives. Remember: They’re not just on the frontlines – they’re in front of the frontlines ensuring clear passage.

There are many things to like about Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s (“Blackfish”) movie, including the love interest (Ramon Rodriguez) angle not being overplayed, and the fact that we’re spared gender discrimination within the Marines. More emphasis on either element would’ve trivialized the drama with conventional plot points we’ve seen countless times before. Remaining focused on Megan and Rex, in contrast, highlights the connection between a Marine and her dog as they grow close and face grave danger, which is a better story. 

There is action, and it’s fine, though it’s largely void of the visual effects adorning so many summer blockbusters these days. The importance of the action scenes, really, is to feel the tension as Megan and Rex are in life or death situations. Some moments are quite perilous. Others are downright nerve-racking and touching. The fact that any action scene connects on an emotional level is a win.

In the simplest of terms, “Megan Leavey” is the story of a woman and her dog who save lives in Iraq. But as dog lovers will attest, Rex in many ways also saves Megan’s life by giving her purpose. In full disclosure I do not count myself as an dog lover, but did once have a German Shepherd, so I related to Megan on a personal level. This movie is for anyone who has ever bonded with an animal.

Did you know?
The real Megan Leavey cameos as a boot camp drill instructor (see pic above), and later appears in the end credits with the real Rex.

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