Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Writers: Pamela Gray, Annie Mumolo, Tim Lovestedt
Starring: Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez, Common, Tom Felton, Edie Falco, Bradley Whitford
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure
This trailer made me teary-eyed, but I knew that this was a movie I had to watch. I owe it to the fallen soldiers, the wounded, to the men and women still deployed, and to the trainers of canine units everywhere. I expect it to be as eye-opening as watching Saving Private Ryan for the first time.
Violence/Scary Images: This film is based on a true story of a depressed young woman with a dysfunctional family who becomes a Marine. There are family fights with arguing. Over half of the movie is based while she is in the service and deployed, so there are battles based on what actually happened in the field, including soldiers killing insurgents and explosives detonating.
Language/Crude Humor: The F-bomb drops once. S*** is used throughout the movie. H*** is used several times, along with God’s name in conjunction with D***. A bit of crude humor is used by soldiers.
Spiritual Content: None, unless you count the prayer mats in some scenes.
Sexual Content: There are a couple of implied sex scenes, but not much is shown besides kissing and blankets draped over bodies. The main character urinates behind some bushes and gets caught, though no naked bits are revealed.
Drug/Alcohol References: Beer and alcoholic shots are in a few scenes. The main character talks about her previous combination of drugs and alcohol, which led to a dire consequence.
Positive Content: Megan overcomes her personal issues and past to earn her way to becoming a canine handler. It takes hard work and perseverance, and she never gives up. Even then, she isn’t given the reward she is promised, but sticks with the program until she and Rex are brought together. And it takes the companionship of a dog to show Megan what love means.
The moment I saw this trailer, I knew I’d have to bring tissues. I have a huge respect for the amount of time and love that is shared between each animal and handler. Also, I know a currently deployed soldier. I wanted to pay my respects by watching, no matter if it was a “Hollywood” version.
When we meet Megan Leavey, she is a broken young woman. Her best friend is dead, her mom is loud and obnoxious, and there is an empty bottle of liquor on Megan’s nightstand. After she’s fired, she happens to walk by a Marine recruiting office. With nothing left to lose and no future, Megan boards a bus to boot camp. It isn’t the end-all, be-all for her and she still screws up. It lands her at Camp Pendleton’s canine facility, washing out dog kennels.
As Megan perseveres, she’s paired with a K9 named Rex, who has an attitude as bad as Megan’s. They aren’t fond of people, in general. After they find themselves deployed in Ramadi, the team is put to work and earns their keep finding caches of hidden munitions. On a mission to find IED’s, they are targeted by insurgents. Despite the pair being severely injured, they keep the rest of the team safe. It is only when Megan is sent home to recuperate, is she separated from the one thing she loves most in the world. Megan Leavey finds the will to live and do whatever it takes to bring Rex home.
Kate Mara inhabits her distant, disconnected main character. There is not a moment, from the shock she expresses, stepping off the recruit bus to the wrenching emotion of leaving her partner, that isn’t well-acted. Megan Leavey is not portrayed as a quintessential hipster or emo gal. Kate Mara really tapped into the complexity of her real life inspiration. Her coworker, the dog who plays Rex, nearly upstages the main character because of his aggressive nature, but it lends well to the story line. I was especially pleased to see Gunny Martin played by Common. Having enjoyed his acting in Hell on Wheels, this was no exception. Rounding out the co-stars, Edie Falco had me loathing Megan’s mom while Bradley Whitford had me crying when he picked up his screen daughter from the airport.
Far from the CGI engines of sci-fi, Megan Leavey boasts impressive cinematography. Sweeping landscapes in the beginning credits, to “dirtier” shots of boot camp, lay the groundwork for amazing camera work. In the desert, everything is bright from the harsh sun. Gabriela Cowperthwaite takes her time and varies shots from aerial to trackwork and hand-helds, depending on the scene. They work beautifully. Coupled with the sound editing, there are some scenes that will steal your breath away and others that will break your heart.
Mark Isham is no stranger to hard-hitting soundtracks, having 34 years of credits to his name. Lit’s most famous track “My Own Worst Enemy,” emphasizes Megan Leavey’s life. It compliments the driving song from The Moony Suzuki but couldn’t be further from the songs by Nelly and A Yawn Worth Yelling. My personal favorite, “The Funeral” by Band of Horses, combines rock with a slow ballad.
I expected to use all of the Kleenex I had stuffed into my pockets. Surprisingly, I only needed a few. The hardest hitting moments for me involved soldiers and their reactions. While I have never served in the Armed Forces, my respect for canine handlers within the ranks blossomed after this movie. I never expected to learn the K9’s are government property, despite the bond between handler and animal. The movie has an uplifting ending, and even features home movies of Megan and Rex. It goes to show that the determined few will move mountains to protect the ones they love.
+ Devotion between a person and their dog + Perseverance despite reaching the goal and not receiving what is owed + Fighting over and over and over and over again, through denials and disappointment, for something you love
- Bad language sprinkled throughout (but it's the military, so it could've been worse) - Portrayal of a manic, obnoxious mom - Dogs are treated as property by government - Main character has no interest in marriage but will sleep with a fella, even when he wants to marry her
The Bottom Line
Megan Leavey doesn't drag you through a happy movie. It pulls you through the ugly and unfair story to show you that love doesn't come easy to some. And through a dog, Megan learns that love means never giving up.