I love dogs.
Like other dog owners, I’ve learned over the years that dogs not only provide companionship but contribute an awful lot to the households they live in. I can’t imagine going through life without the dogs I’ve welcomed into my home.
And that was the main reason I wanted to see MEGAN LEAVEY (2017), a new war drama based on the true story of an American soldier and her bomb sniffing dog on duty on the dangerous desert roads of Iraq.
The other reason I wanted to see this one was Kate Mara. I like Mara a lot, and I’ve enjoyed most of her movies, although it seems she is still waiting for that breakout role. And while I don’t believe MEGAN LEAVEY is that movie, it still makes for a worthwhile trip to the theater.
It’s 2001, and Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) lives in New York City with her mom Jackie (Edie Falco) and her step dad Jim (Will Patton). It is not a good situation, as her mom is about as sensitive to her needs as an acid bath, and when Megan is fired from her job, she hits rock bottom, reeling from both unemployment and the recent death of her best friend. With nowhere else to go, Megan decides to join the Marines. At the very least, it will get her away from her family.
Things do not go smoothly at first for Megan in the Marines either, but eventually she finds her niche, and it’s with the Marine’s K9 unit where she bonds with the unit’s most aggressive dog, a German Shepherd named Rex. He’s so aggressive he’s difficult to train, and Megan is given the chance to train him since she’s the low person on the totem pole. She is able to break through to Rex and reach him in a way no one else had been able to do, and soon they are on missions together where Rex is the most sought after dog because of his superior bomb sniffing abilities. All is well until Rex misses a bomb, it goes off, and— things change drastically after that.
MEGAN LEAVEY is an emotional movie, especially for dog lovers who understand the bonds formed between people and dogs. At one point late in the film, Megan says that Rex taught her how to love again. It’s a statement that on the surface might seem overdramatic, but for people who own dogs, it rings true. Dogs do possess that ability.
And the dog who plays Rex in this movie nearly steals the show. His expressions and intuitive eyes should earn him a Best Doggie Actor Nomination.
Kate Mara is excellent as Megan Leavey, which comes as no surprise. She’s always good. As Megan Leavey, she really brings to light how messed up Megan’s life is at home, and so the audience is easily rooting for her to pull it all together somehow.
And I totally bought her relationship with Rex. Not sure if I’d call this Mara’s best performance to date, but it’s up there.
Edie Falco also stands out as Megan’s incredibly annoying mother, Jackie. Likewise, Geraldine James makes her Dr. Turbeville just as irritating. Turbeville is the veterinarian who takes issue with Rex’s aggressiveness and almost forms a personal hatred towards the dog, so much so that she tries to block Megan’s efforts to adopt him later.
Rapper Common does a nice job as the head officer of the K9 unit, Gunny Martin. He’s tough on Megan, but he also sees promise in her and gives her the break she needs when she is given Rex to train.
Ramon Rodriguez is likable as fellow soldier Matt Morales who becomes Megan’s closest friend in the military, and the two flirt off and on in an on again off again relationship.
Bradley Whitford, who we just saw earlier this year in the horror movie GET OUT (2017) and who’s most famous for his role as Josh Lyman on the TV show WEST WING (1999-2006), plays Megan’s dad Bob. She doesn’t live with her dad, but she should. He’s always there for her with solid advice, and he provides a shoulder to cry on.
Will Patton, from the TV show FALLING SKIES (2011-2015), and who’s been in a ton of movies [my favorite being his role as Coach Bill Yoast in REMEMBER THE TITANS (2000)] plays Megan’s step dad Jim, a loser of a man who means well but is such a weak individual he just allows Megan’s mom Jackie to run the show.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite directed MEGAN LEAVEY and does a nice job with it. The entire film looks good, and the scenes taking place in Iraq possess the necessary edge and suspense.
Is it as powerful as other war movies in recent years, films like AMERICAN SNIPER (2014) and ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)? No. The script simply isn’t as strong, and the story doesn’t resonate as well.
The screenplay by Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo, and Tim Lovested is more interested in Megan Leavey and her personal plight, and how Rex helps her through it, than in a broader portrait of the war in Iraq, and that’s perfectly fine. The film, after all, is entitled MEGAN LEAVEY. As such, it’s more a tale of humanity lost and found again than about the plight of dogs and soldiers in the war in Iraq.
It’s also a much more effective movie for folks who love dogs. If you’re not into dogs, the story might not move you as much, and that’s because if you remove the dog element from the story, what’s left is standard and ordinary.
I liked MEGAN LEAVEY. To use a baseball analogy, since Megan Leavey is a huge Yankees fan in the film, the movie is not a home run, but it is a solid double, good enough to make its point and tell a satisfying story in the process.
I give this one two and half doggie biscuits.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.