‘Megan Leavey’ barks up the right tree

Kate Mara in ‘Megan Leavey’

I care not much for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it – Abraham Lincoln

A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself – Josh Billings

With the second War in Iraq raging, Megan Leavey (Kate Mara – 10 Years, The Martian) is a young woman who wants to get away from her life in Valley Cottage, NY.  She lives with her mother (Edie Falco – The Comedian) and stepfather (Will Patton – Remember the Titans) and is not happy about it.  After all, Megan’s mom dumped her father (Bradley Whitford – Saving Mr. Banks) for this guy and they are so wrapped up in each other they have little time or energy left for Megan.  Add to that the survivors guilt she has over the death of her male best friend and it is easy to see why she wants out.  So she joins the Marine Corps.

After the obligatory basic training sequence where the drill instructors do a poor job of channeling “Gunnery Sergeant Hartmann” from Full Metal Jacket, Megan finds herself stationed in California at Camp Pendleton.  There she does something dumb and winds up being banished to the K-9 training unit on post for a week of dog doo duty (among other things).  “Gunny Martin” (Common – LUV) runs the facility and when Megan shows an interest in becoming a dog handler, he tells her she will probably never meet the high standards required to begin handler training.

She refuses to take no for an answer and after she achieves the required prerequisites, she begins training.  When she is finally paired with Rex, it is rough going at first.  But she manages to form a strong bond with Rex and soon they are nearly inseparable.  Rex is a bomb-detecting dog and that means she and he will be going to Iraq.

Rex performs quite well in his role in detecting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as well as weapons and munitions.  He and Megan are injured in an explosion and Megan wakes up in a hospital without Rex.  She learns he is being treated and eventually is assigned to another handler.  She leave the Marine Corps and wants to adopt Rex.  Her struggle to do that makes up the remaining part of the film.

Common in ‘Megan Leavey’

There is a romance with a fellow handler, “Sergeant Matt Morales” (Ramon Rodriguez – Need For Speed) during her time in the Corps and after she begins to fight to adopt Rex.  Her father encourages her to do whatever it takes to bring her friend home with her.  Eventually a “Senator” (Fred Galle) gets involved.

Kate Mara is excellent in this film and that has a lot to do with how director Gabriela Cowperthwaite handled this based on a true story material.  Her experience as a documentary producer/director results in a feature film debut that reveals the tale in an open and honest manner.  The story of attempting to reunite a woman with the dog who saved her life is a tear-jerker on its own and Ms Cowperthwaite delivers it without any attempt to embellish those emotions.  Her efforts are aided by Mara’s stellar performance as well as a strong turn from Common.  He is quite reminiscent of some of the Marine NCOs I encountered during my own military service.

Some poetic license is taken in making the movie but those altered details don’t detract at all.  It is a winner.

The real Megan Leavey and Rex in 2012

[imdb id = tt4899370]

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