Hot Take: A simple but effective “based on a true story” tale. It’s an emotional war/dog movie. A well told story with a straightforward mission: Make you tear up.
Megan Leavey might be the story of the female Marine who became a bomb dog handler but it’s every bit the story of Rex, the dog she worked with. Coming from a person who you’ll never find gushing at a PetSmart over the available dogs and cats, I found myself watching Megan Leavey missing Rex when he wasn’t on screen and developing a cinematic emotional attachment to the character.
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, a documentarian, adds a low-key style to the storytelling that is as effective in this dramatized retelling as it is in documentaries. It feels organic and natural and brings out a strong performance from Kate Mara who plays the titular character. The movie concentrates on Leavey but the bomb dog she works with and ends up caring about more than herself, Rex, is every bit the scene stealer that you’d expect the animal to be. The war scenes are filmed especially well and bring you into the hell of war without ever feeling embellished or oversold. Cowperthwaite proves her capability as a director and I’ll be excited next time I see her name attached to a project.
I’m becoming a fan of Mara despite her spotty film choices. This was a good role choice for her and I’ll be in the minority here and mention that I also liked her in last year’s Morgan (even though I failed to mention that in my Hot Take about the movie last year) and feel she’s coming along well in roles that capitalize on her talents as an actress. She has been in a lot of clunkers though (mostly in supporting roles) so the non-dog lover, non-war film lover might be steered away by her presence in the film. They shouldn’t dismiss her so easily as she delivers a very good performance.
It’s unlikely Megan Leavey will have an overly lasting impact as it doesn’t do anything extraordinarily well. It doesn’t attempt to do more than honor Leavey and Rex and tell the story of two war heroes that formed a special bond and friendship that goes beyond duty. I’m sure one day I’ll happen upon this one on TV and watch it again and have a good cry. Wait, those were just allergies, I swear.
“Spoiler Free” Pro
- Our Canine Soldiers
The animals who serve our country have a tough job. They suffer from the same effects our human soldiers do and can be rewarded in retirement by being put to sleep because they are incapable of moving on to a civilian life. This film brings their story to light and celebrates them effectively and admirably.
- The War Scenes
The natural tension added through the handheld shots and being inside the action with a more everyday, less grandiose feel of typical war films adds a natural element thanks to Cowperthwaite’s documentarian background.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- It’s a Bit of a War Film Cliché
With the exception of Rex and the dog handling subplot, Leavey’s journey from lost civilian to successful Marine won’t blow you away. The story develops in a pretty straightforward way and there aren’t many surprises. She screws up where you expect her to and matures at just the right time. It may be accurate to her